French Open semifinalist Jelena Ostapenko has seen the best results of her career this clay season, and the key is a new face in her coaching team.
Stephanie Livaudais

Latvian teenager Jelena Ostapenko is in uncharted territory at Roland Garros – she’s through to her first Grand Slam semifinals and, at 19 years old, she’s the first teenager to do so since Ana Ivanovic in 2007.

But clay court specialist Anabel Medina Garrigues, a new face in her coaching team, has been there every step of the way to keep her feet on the ground.

The 34-year-old Spaniard is still an active player, but hasn’t competed since August of last year due to a lingering shoulder injury. During the off season, Medina Garrigues was the tournament director for an ITF event in her hometown Valencia, and now during this year’s clay season she’s taken up a new role: assistant coach to Ostapenko.

“Jelena and I share a manager, and it was him that told me she was a good player,” Medina Garrigues told Punto De Break in an interview earlier in the season at the Mutua Madrid Open. “He also said she was a girl who was used to working with women, and that I could help her to improve her tennis because I have a lot of experience in my career.”

The pair tried to work out a coaching partnership during the 2015 offseason, which Ostapenko spent in Valencia, but as Medina Garrigues was still competing regularly they put the plans on the backburner.

But after the shoulder injury at last year’s Wimbledon sidelined the Spaniard, Ostapenko came calling again.

After testing their coaching partnership for two weeks during the 2016 Asian swing, Medina Garrigues, a two-time Roland Garros doubles champion, is back in the Latvian’s box for the clay season alongside Ostapenko’s mom, who remains her primary coach.

Medina Garrigues describes Ostapenko as “a girl with strong character and an East European mentality” and she hopes to help her learn “the patience of a Spanish tennis player.”

“Her groundstrokes are very strong, I would say she’s among two or three of the most powerful players currently on tour,” she said. “At the same time she’s just a girl, only 19, and she needs to work at it. She wants to end every point in two shots – you have to explain to her that she needs to adapt to the rival and the surface, learn to build the point, play more organized and be patient to make less mistakes.

“If she plays a well-organized tennis and stays focused, she’s capable of beating anyone.”

As far as results go, it seems that Ostapenko is a quick study. With Medina Garrigues in her box, she’s reached the best results of her career, reaching the final in Charleston, semifinals in Prague and now her first ever Grand Slam semifinals at the French Open.

The pair don’t have long-term plans in place; Medina Garrigues still has plans to return to WTA action, and though she says she’s about 80% recovered from injury, she’s in no rush to come back.

“I’ve got a lot of free time. I’m doing a lot, but it’s not like we’re spending 24 hours on court. I dedicate time to what I need to do, to my tournament [in Valencia] and to myself as a player.

“Luckily, all these projects have caught me while I’m recovering from injury, and I’m not worried about too many hours of competing.”

If you speak Spanish, head over to Punto De Break for the rest of Anabel Medina Garrigues’ interview!