PARIS, France - Jelena Ostapenko is through to her first ever Grand Slam final after battling past No.30 seed Timea Bacsinszky in the French Open semifinals.
It was a special day for both players – they were both celebrating birthdays, with Timea turning 28 and Ostapenko turning 20 – and they were bidding for the biggest present: a maiden Grand Slam final appearance.
The unseeded Ostapenko came into this year's French Open having never won a match at Roland Garros (0-2), but rallied to a stunning 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3 victory.
“The match was really tough, I think it was a battle,” Ostapenko said afterwards. “I'm really happy to be in the final, especially on my birthday. I think it's a nice gift!
“I was just trying to stay aggressive and to go for a shot when I could. I think it was kind of important that I won the first set, even the second I lost, but in the third set I found my game again.”
She’ll take on the winner between No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova and No.3 seed Simona Halep for a shot at the French Open title.
Both players were neck and neck during the opening set, never letting the other keep the lead for long. The Swiss opened with a break to the Ostapenko serve - bringing out the first of many dropshots to earn the chance - but Ostapenko broke right back, not holding back and playing her trademark fine-margin tennis.
They traded breaks two more times, with Ostapenko striking first and Bacsinszky hitting back right away, and stayed deadlocked to send the set into a tiebreaker. Bacsinszky’s vulnerable second serve created many problems for the Swiss, Ostapenko pouncing on the short deliveries to pull ahead in the tiebreak and take the opening set.
Ostapenko and Bacsinszky were just as level in the second set, until Bacsinszky finally broke through in the seventh game. Ostapenko was pushed to deuce on her serve, and dumped an easy volley into the net to give the Swiss the break point.
Bacsinszky capitalized on the Latvian’s increasingly frustrated performance to reel off the last four games of the set to send the match into a decider.
But Ostapenko, who never showed herself to be overawed by the occasion, quickly put the disappointment behind her in the third. She edged ahead to 3-1 after a flurry of breaks finally went her way, gutting out a hold after a marathon six-minute game.
She raised her level as Bacsinszky’s seemed to dip at the worst moment, and Ostapenko fired off two breaks in a row to rattle off the last three games in a row and seal her passage into the final with a zinging forehand.
“If I could be only disappointed on one aspect of the match it's some opportunities I had in the first set,” Bacsinszky said after the match. “I created myself some opportunities, but on the other side of the net she was playing quite well, and she was defending very well everything I was proposing.”
After the match, the crowd on Chatrier serenaded Ostapenko with “Happy Birthday.”
With the victory, Ostapenko becomes the first Latvian ever to reach a Grand Slam final. Currently ranked No.47, she’s also projected to rise to WTA Top 20 ranking, landing at World No.18 as runner up or as high as No.13 with the title.