Jelena Ostapenko solidified her status as a true all-surface threat by capturing her fourth career title at the Viking International Eastbourne. Ostapenko blasted through a tough draw that included Roland Garros finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Birmingham champion Ons Jabeur, Birmingham finalist Daria Kasatkina, Roland Garros semifinalist Elena Rybakina and came through an all-Baltic final against Anett Kontaveit to win her first title on grass.
The title was Ostapenko's first since winning on indoor hardcourts in Luxembourg in 2019, and the win means her four titles have come on different surfaces, with Roland Garros and Seoul rounding out the set.
En route to the title, Ostapenko credited the uneven indoor hardcourts she grew up on in Latvia as honing her aggressive, yet adaptable game. The 24-year-old French Open champion isn't bothered by bad bounces; in fact, she prefers them.
"I grew up playing on a very fast surface," Ostapenko told reporters after her semifinal win. "I was practicing until I was 12 or 13 on the wood courts, which were extremely fast. Maybe that helps to play on grass because - now it's getting slower and slower - but still, in the beginning, it was very fast. Maybe it helps me to adapt better to these conditions.
"I think it was bouncing, to be honest, everywhere, because it was not even. You had to really adapt to those conditions. The ceiling was very low also, so you could not really do any lobs. It was a funny time, fun times, but still, I think it helped me in my tennis. Maybe because of that I started to play aggressive since I was a child."
Eastbourne is Ostapenko's biggest title since winning Roland Garros in 2017 and sets her up perfectly for Wimbledon, where she was a semifinalist in 2018. Ostapenko says she has put her Paris win well behind her and is only looking ahead. Her next goal is to return to the Top 10, where she believes she belongs.
"Honestly, of course it's great to have a Grand Slam behind me, but I think I need to - not forget about it - but kind of and try to achieve more and put another goal, because the life doesn't stop when you win a Grand Slam."
Ostapenko spoke to WTA Insider to discuss what went right in Eastbourne and reveal why she prefers the natural surfaces over hardcourts.
WTA Insider: How were you feeling at the beginning of the week? Were you feeling confident that a result like this was coming?
Ostapenko: After Birmingham, I didn't feel so well on grass because I didn't play for two years. I had only a couple of matches in Birmingham and I didn't think it was enough because I wanted to get used to this surface more. But then with every practice, I felt better and better on the court.
Then I played good matches in the first and second round and I thought, "OK, probably it's working better." I felt better and better every day on the grass courts so I felt like I was getting used to it.
WTA Insider: You came through a tough draw. Did that help you, knowing that you really had to play well to defeat your in-form opponents?
Ostapenko: I think the first round I knew it was going to be tough, but I had a good head-to-head against Pavlyuchenkova. So I was quite confident going into that match. Also, I had a match against her a couple of years ago on grass, so I kind of knew how I had to play. But then I knew it was going to be a tough match against Jabeur because she just won a title and I had to play well. I think I did. In the important moments, I played much better and at a high level.
It got to be better and better. Against Kasatkina, the first set I was playing really bad but then I got back and felt my game and by the third set I was dictating the rallies.
But the last two matches, I'm very happy with how I played. I think I was very consistent, very smart, and also staying aggressive and making a lot of winners and putting a lot of pressure on the players.
WTA Insider: What does it mean for you when you say you played "smart"?
Ostapenko: To not hit hard every ball, but only when I have chances. But also to mix it up with some drop shots, some slices when possible. Wrong foot the opponent, change directions. But just to go for it when I have a chance, not to go crazy.
Of course I made some unforced errors because I'm hitting hard. But I think I was playing smarter and making less unforced errors than normally.
WTA Insider: How do you walk that line of being a player who knows that you can overpower opponents with your big ball-striking but also needs to reign in that risky play when it's off?
Ostapenko: I think sometimes I don't even have to hit 100% because sometimes when I hit half of it, it's very dangerous. Obviously, if I hit 100% of my speed of shot, very few girls can hold the pace.
So sometimes if I don't feel comfortable then I can go with half pace. Here, I think I did it. I didn't go crazy with every shot. When I really had it, I went for it. But not every shot. I made less mistakes that way and it was working pretty well.
WTA Insider: You've now won a title on every surface: outdoor hardcourt, indoor hardcourt, clay, and grass. What is the key to being able to play on all the surfaces?
Ostapenko: Just to adjust and change some things. For example, on clay court I really know how to slide and I can really move well on clay courts and not many players can do that. They are struggling with the movement on the clay.
On grass, I can use it to my advantage also. I know how to move on grass. Sometimes I can also slide. I didn't this week, but normally I can.
Probably the surface I don't like that much is probably hard court because the court is very even and the ball is always going the same. I don't know how to say it, but it's probably too easy to play on that court. It's very even. If you make a kick serve it's not working because it's bouncing always the same, so it's easy for everyone to adjust to it.
But on grass court and clay court I think the players who can adjust better and know how to play on those surfaces can win. Because some players who play well on hard court don't have good results on clay and grass courts because like I said, it's bouncing always the same so you don't have to make any adjustments. Maybe the movement, but not really because the surface is so even.
WTA Insider: You discussed those lightning-fast, low-bouncing, uneven wood courts you grew up on. Do you think they taught you how to make those small, last-minute adjustments?
Ostapenko: I think so, yes. If you could see these courts where I was practicing, you wouldn't believe that it's possible to even practice there. But I was practicing there until I was 14-years-old. It was very hard, but I had no choice. I had to adjust.
It was similar to a sports court at a school, but it was normally a tennis court where they would play basketball, too. It was really cold in the winter. It would get to zero degrees Celsius. The ball was bouncing even lower or worse because it was really cold. I think all those things probably helped me to play well.
WTA Insider: Maybe one of your underrated talents is how adjustable you are as a player?
Ostapenko: Yeah I think I can make them, I just have to think in my mind that I can make them because sometimes if it doesn't go one way I start to panic and do the same. But if I can adjust then it will be better for me.
WTA Insider: Does this week change your expectations at Wimbledon?
Ostapenko: I don't think so. Just take one match at a time and recover and get ready for the first match. Also to enjoy it because grass court season is very short. If I play the same as I played here, I think I have good chances to go deep in the tournament at Wimbledon.
WTA Insider: How are you feeling physically?
Ostapenko: Honestly I feel very good physically. Also, I played doubles, two matches in a day. But I feel well and every day I feel even better and better. I'm not tired at all. I'm really looking forward to going to London and playing matches there.
WTA Insider: What are you most looking forward to at Wimbledon?
Ostapenko: Wearing the white outfit because I think it looks really amazing on grass court. It looks really cool when everyone is in the white outfits. It's really nice.