LINZ, Austria -- Former Top 5 player Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia had to come back from the brink of defeat to reach her first WTA singles final of 2019, as the 2017 Roland Garros champion saved three match points en route to a 1-6, 7-6(5), 7-5 victory over No.8 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, in a topsy-turvy two-hour and 21-minute tussle at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz on Saturday.
"It’s great to make the final," Ostapenko told the press, following her win. "Of course, I came here without any expectations, just to win as many matches as I can, because I didn’t play so well this year. To be in the final, at one of the last tournaments of the season, it’s great. It’s great to finish the season this way."
Ostapenko's victory sets up an intriguing championship match on Sunday, as the former Grand Slam champion will now face American teenage sensation Coco Gauff for the trophy. Gauff, a lucky loser into the main draw, defeated Andrea Petkovic in straight sets in the earlier semifinal to make the first WTA singles final of her career.
"[Gauff is] a great player, she’s very young, and it’s going to be a good final," said Ostapenko. "It’s going to be a tough match, but I’m just going to focus more on myself and just enjoy it."
— WTA (@WTA) October 12, 2019
Each player had 14 break points in the match, and, indeed, Alexandrova broke the Ostapenko serve one more time than vice versa, but it was the Latvian who claimed victory after steely performances at the tail end of the second and third sets, saving one match point at 6-5 in the second set and two more match points at 5-4 in the third.
"When I saved match points, I think [the crowd was] even more into it," Ostapenko stated. "They were like, ‘Wow, something interesting is happening here!’ I enjoyed it a lot. A lot of people were supporting me, so I think it’s great."
"The first set was a tricky one, I was not really there, she was playing so good, hitting the ball super hard and serving well," Ostapenko admitted. "It was hard for me to find the game and the rhythm, because she was almost not missing anything. But then, in the second set, there were a couple deciding moments [in the tiebreak]. Then in the third set, I had more opportunities."
"It was a little bit like a rollercoaster, but then, in the end, I managed it," the Latvian concluded.
Alexandrova, last year's Linz runner-up, had things all her way in the first set, as her great groundstroke game was on point while the unforced errors from the fiery Ostapenko piled up. The Russian slammed an ace on her second set point as she picked up the opening frame in 30 minutes, putting herself within one set of making a second consecutive Linz final.
— WTA (@WTA) October 12, 2019
Ostapenko found herself down an early break in the second set as well but pulled level at 3-3 as more winners started to flow from her racquet. Nevertheless, Alexandrova remained unbothered, and after saving three break points to reach 4-4, the Russian swiftly broke Ostapenko at love to reach 5-4 and serve for the match.
Alexandrova fired an ace to reach her first match point in that game, but she missed that chance after letting a backhand fly long, and succumbed to a break from there, tying the set at 5-5. They moved into a tiebreak to decide the second set, where, at 5-5, Alexandrova missed a forehand wide to hand Ostapenko a first set point. There, the Russian fired a service return wide, and the tilt was deadlocked at one set apiece.
An early exchange of breaks in the decider led to fairly routine service holds up to 5-4, but things got tricky for Ostapenko there. Alexandrova fired a forehand crosscourt winner in that game, which gave her two more match points. However, the Russian hit unforced errors on both of her chances, and eventually Ostapenko closed out the game with a nerveless forehand winner to reach 5-5.
The unforced errors slipped over into the next game for Alexandrova, and she hit two miscues in a row to drop serve, suddenly putting Ostapenko into the lead. Serving for the win at 6-5, the Latvian saw Alexandrova save one match point with a return winner, but Ostapenko converted her second match point to complete her comeback victory.