Welcome to French Open Flashbacks, where wtatennis.com will take a look back at some of the most memorable narratives from Roland Garros over the past 20 years. After recapping Charleston's classics, Stuttgart's standards, Madrid’s magic moments, and Rome's records, our retrospective heads to the culmination of the clay season in Paris - up next is Jelena Ostapenko sending shockwaves through the sport with a run to her first ever title in 2017.
For more classic moments, check out our other French Open Flashbacks:
1999: Graf wins 22nd and final Grand Slam title
2001: Capriati confirms comeback with brave battle in record-setting final
2003: Henin fulfils lofty goals with first of four Roland Garros crowns
2014: Halep serves notice in run to first final in Paris
2016: Mladenovic, Garcia delight home fans with fairytale triumph in Paris
THE MOMENT: In a career characterized by extremes - from month to month, match to match and game to game - it's fitting that Jelena Ostapenko's maiden Grand Slam title came so completely out of leftfield. By 2017, the Latvian had already established herself as one to watch - a stellar junior career highlighted by the 2014 Wimbledon girls' title had transitioned smoothly into the pros, where she had already reached Premier finals at Doha 2016 and Charleston 2017. Top names such as Petra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki had fallen victim to the teenager.
But none of that suggested she was on the verge of a major title. Ostapenko had never been ranked higher than World No.34 - and had fallen back to World No.47 by the start of Roland Garros. She had yet to be seeded in a Slam or to progress further than the third round, nor had she won a WTA title. (As she scythed her way through the draw, commentators began to note the serendipity of Ostapenko being born on the day Gustavo Kuerten, also unseeded and titleless, won the men's French Open title in 1997.)
Neither did Ostapenko's tournament begin auspiciously as, tucked far away from the spotlight on Court 6, she fell behind a set to World No.128 Louisa Chirico. But a hallmark of the 19-year-old's run would be her ability to brush off deficits as though they were minor annoyances, instead elevating her searing ground game to unplayable levels: her 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 defeat of the American would be one of four times this fortnight that Ostapenko would come from a set down to win.
Nonetheless, she remained under the radar until the second week. Upsets had swiftly cleared Ostapenko's section of seeds, with No.1 Angelique Kerber and No.31 Roberta Vinci vacating it after the first round, and instead a 6-3, 6-2 win over Monica Puig and a 6-1, 6-4 dismissal of Lesia Tsurenko saw the teenager into the fourth round of a Slam for the first time.
But by now, Ostapenko was brimming with confidence - and an unshakeable belief that her all-or-nothing aggression was enough to mow down anyone in her way. Averaging 76mph on her forehand, she blew past 2010 runner-up Samantha Stosur 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 and then, for the fourth time out of four matches within the year, dictated proceedings against former World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 win. Even the trickery of No.30 seed Timea Bacsinszky couldn't shift Ostapenko off course; after falling 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3, the Swiss player marvelled: "She's hitting as hard as she can down the line from nowhere. It comes above the net and in the corner, and I mean, who tries that? Seriously?"
Ostapenko had celebrated her 20th birthday with her semifinal win over Bacsinszky, and despite her irresistible form, most still assumed the fairytale would end in the final. Three years after first reaching the Roland Garros final, No.3 seed Simona Halep had established herself as the one to beat on clay in 2017 after winning Madrid and coming runner-up in Rome - avenging that defeat in a remarkable comeback against Elina Svitolina in the Paris quarterfinals. Moreover, in each of Ostapenko's Tour finals to date, she had ended up ensnared in a defensive web: Annika Beck at Québec City 2015, Carla Suárez Navarro at Doha 2016 and Daria Kasatkina at Charleston 2017.
If Ostapenko's tactics were as clear-cut as they had been all fortnight - strike first, strike hard, strike from inside and outside the court, aim for lines at all times - so were Halep's. The Romanian opted to make her game watertight, eschewing her lower-percentage angles and offensive point construction to batten down the hatches, relentlessly sending deep, high topspin back at Ostapenko. It was safe - Halep committed just 10 unforced errors during the whole match - but perhaps too safe, as it delivered control of rallies into the younger player's hands.
And Ostapenko relished it, even when the scoreboard seemed to be getting away from her. Down 4-6, 0-3, she faced three points to fall behind a double break; at 1-3 in the third set, she was twice two points from going down 1-4. On each occasion, a combination of inspiration and irritation seemed to galvanize her - not to rein herself in but to go for ever more audacious shots and to will them inside the court.
By the end of her 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 triumph, Ostapenko could hardly touch the ball without creating a scorching winner. There was barely time for a stunned crowd to realise that she had reached an improbable championship point before Ostapenko swatted a return down the line for a clean winner - and a satisfyingly symmetric scorecard of 54 winners to 54 unforced errors, an entirely appropriate testament to the full-on commitment to her game she had shown all fortnight.
THE MEANING: Ostapenko's achievement was a record-shattering one: she was the first Latvian ever to win a Grand Slam singles title, as well as the lowest-ranked player since the inception of computer rankings, the first unseeded Roland Garros champion since Margaret Scriven in 1933 and the youngest since Iva Majoli in 1997.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, consistency has since eluded her - though even in this, Ostapenko has a tendency to rack up eyecatching statistics. The following year, she became the second Roland Garros defending champion in the Open Era to crash out in the first round, falling to Kateryna Kozlova; until her 2019 doubles quarterfinal showing, she had yet to win a match at the French Open in any discipline, juniors or seniors, aside from her title run. Since 2018, her ranking has oscillated between World No.5 and World No.83, and is currently frozen at World No.41.
But among fans, the rollercoaster - both within matches and across her career - is essential to Ostapenko's appeal. Tuning into an Ostapenko match is to buckle in for a wild ride and unpredictable plot twists - and make no mistake, the highs will be dazzling and capable of taking down anyone, as her runs to the 2018 Miami final and 2018 Wimbledon semifinals have also demonstrated.
Indeed, though the word "choke" was bandied around by commentators regarding Halep's loss, it would be more accurate to say that a tactical misjudgment led the Romanian into a storm she was unable to control. Questions over Halep's ability to become a Grand Slam champion only intensified after she lost a third major final at the 2018 Australian Open to Caroline Wozniacki - but the truth is that each of those losses had been high quality and narrowly contested, decided by only a few points, rather than examples of Halep freezing.
The former World No.1 has never delivered a poor performance in a major final, and her own redemption arc in winning Roland Garros 2018 and Wimbledon 2019 was singularly well-earned.