Welcome to Clay Chronicles, where wtatennis.com will take a look back at some of the most memorable matches from the clay seasons of the past five years. Up next from Charleston is Jelena Ostapenko's powerful semifinal clash with Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in 2017, where the young Latvian staved off a late surge from the veteran Croat to reach her first clay court final.

Charleston Rewind:
2015: Angelique Kerber def. Madison Keys, final
2016: Sloane Stephens def. Daria Kasatkina, quarterfinal

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Jelena Ostapenko first served notice as a junior, becoming the Wimbledon girl's singles champion in 2014. Armed with a high-octane game that saw her take massive swings off both sides, her success on fast surfaces translated to her WTA debut and a maiden final appearance at the indoor Coupe Banque Nationale a year later in Québec. 

Even as the Latvian took Karolina Pliskova to 10-8 in the third set of the 2017 Australian Open, it remained to be seen whether the teenager had the patience to hit through the higher bounce. 

She got to work on answering that question that very spring at the Volvo Car Open, the first clay court event of the season. Unseeded but always dangerous, she survived a three-setter against a young Maria Sakkari, and halted former World No.1 seed Caroline Wozniacki's return to the Top 10 in the quarterfinals - then her most impressive win.

"In my mind, every time I go on court to play against her, I just know that I have to stay aggressive, but to not go for every shot because I have to be consistent, as well," the notoriously succinct Ostapenko said of the match-up in Paris.

In the semifinals she'd face Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, a veteran in the midst of a career renaissance. Armed with an equally explosive ground game, Lucic-Baroni did what Ostapenko couldn't in Australia, upsetting Pliskova in the quarterfinals for her best Grand Slam result in nearly two decades.


"Who would have thought at 34 years old I would be breaking my personal best?" she asked after bowing out to Serena Williams in the semis. "I mean, that's a little silly. It's crazy, but really fun. It's really nice.

"Like I said, I always knew I could do it. It's easy to talk, I belong here, I'm good enough to be there. Until results speak for you, it's all talk."

Off the tour for years due to a myriad of physical and personal setbacks, the 1999 Wimbledon semifinalist continued her Melbourne momentum when the tour came stateside, reaching the Abierto Mexicano Telcel semifinals and Miami Open quarterfinals before turning her attention to clay.

Dropping just one set en route to the last eight, she rallied from a set down to defeat hometown favorite Shelby Rogers to reach her first Premier-level semifinal since 1998 at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. 

Charleston Highlights, Lucic Baroni v Ostapenko

WHAT HAPPENED: Facing off for the second time of 2017 - Ostapenko emerged victorious in straight sets at the ASB Classic in January - fortune would clearly favor the braver of these big-hitters. 

From the start, that seemed to be Ostapenko, who shook off an opening loss of serve to win six of the next eight games, scoring the crucial break in the eighth game and saving a break point to serve out the first set.

The second set saw a similar exchange of breaks and another 5-3 lead for Ostapenko. Lucic-Baroni dug her heels into the green dirt and kept swinging, rolling through four straight games. She leveled the match with an emphatic forehand return winner that had the Charleston crowd on its feet.

Ostapenko was undaunted, and began the deciding set as positively as possible, drawing first blood with a smooth forehand winner and ultimately going two for two on break point chances to ease ahead 4-1.

Lucic-Baroni made a brave last stand - even as knee pain caused her to take a medical time-out -  clawing back to within one break of tying up the match with more thudding offense. 

The ball-dancing Ostapenko proved nimble in the match's most tense moments, digging out of a close eighth game to serve out the two hour, eight minute epic in decisive fashion.

WHAT THEY SAID: With both women employing similar tactics, Ostapenko saw the match coming down to mentality, and credited a cool head with helping her cross the finish line.

"I actually was quite emotional in the second set, when I was 5-3 up and I couldn't finish the set," she said in the post-match press conference. "She liked when I was emotional. It kind of gave her confidence till then.

"In the third set I was just trying to be calm because I think it was tougher for her that I didn't show any emotions, and it helped me, so I won the third set."

Despite the bright start to the season, Ostapenko had admittedly underperformed during the Sunshine Swing, and was determined to reverse the trend before returning to Europe.

"I lost in Miami first round, so then I went to prepare for clay court season, and I was training really hard. When I came here I was just trying to play relaxed and just how it will be, and yeah, I think it helped me because I didn't think I have to win or something.  I was just playing."

WHAT IT MEANT: Though Ostapenko would fall in the final to fellow teenager and 2014 junior Grand Slam champion Daria Kasatkina, Ostapenko became one to watch during the ensuing clay court swing. The Latvian added former WTA star Anabel Medina Garrigues to her coaching team, and came to Roland Garros as a darkhorse for a deep run after another win over Wozniacki at the J&T Banka Open and pushing 2016 champion Garbiñe Muguruza to three sets in Rome.

Ostapenko scored a third win over the Dane in the quarterfinals and outlasted Timea Bacsinszky on her 20th birthday to find herself in a first-ever Grand Slam final. The rest quickly became history as she became the first from her country to capture a major singles title, roaring back from a set and breaks down in the second and third sets to surge past heavy favorite Simona Halep.

Lucic-Baroni continued to post solid results on clay, upsetting an injured Maria Sharapova in Rome before picking up a right shoulder issue of her own, one that has largely kept her off tour since.