After Jelena Ostapenko's first-round win over Iga Swiatek at the Nature Valley Classic, the former Roland Garros champion sat down with to talk about the challenges she faces in trying to find her best level again - and her plans to venture into the music world.
Alex Macpherson
June 19, 2019

BIRMINGHAM, UK - Former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko hasn't had the easiest of years, by her own admission - and ill fortune continued to beset her even as she landed in Britain to begin her beloved grass season.

"I arrived on Friday," Ostapenko said. "Unfortunately, my bags didn't arrive until Sunday. I couldn't even hit on Saturday, so I basically had one day to hit because I was playing doubles on Monday. I felt if they had lost it, it would be tough for me to play the tournament because I gave everything to the check-in. It never happened to me before so I was really stressed."

In a strange way, though, it was a blessing in disguise. The Latvian entered Birmingham with just a 6-14 win-loss record in 2019, and admits that finding the form that took her to the 2017 Roland Garros title has been difficult.

"I'm very different to how I was in 2017 - I used to be so fearless," she recalls. "Now I have so many thoughts in my head, and it's hard to be fearless like that." Gesturing with flair, the 22-year-old continues: "So I'm trying to get rid of them, push them out of my head."

The baggage stress displaced those thoughts - and the lack of time to prepare for the tournament meant that Ostapenko had no time to ponder, just to hit. "It gave me less time - which is better for me because when I have less time, I'm more focused," she laughed. The result? Two wins - and two bagels - banked already, a 6-0, 6-7(3), [10-8] doubles thriller alongside Galina Voskoboeva over wildcards Sarah Beth Grey and Eden Silva - and a head-turningly impressive 6-0, 6-2 rout of Polish teen phenomenon Iga Swiatek.

Ostapenko still feels that she is playing catch-up on the season after a wrist injury wrecked her pre-season plans - "It's tough, because I keep trying to do pre-season work when I have a chance but then I have to play tournaments" - and has set no specific goals in terms of ranking or victories.

Instead, she is working with a sports psychologist to keep trying to push those dreaded thoughts out of her head and "to enjoy every point of every match" - as well as trying her hand at a few new endeavours off court.

As fans already know, the keen music lover - who famously danced to Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's "Despacito" before the Roland Garros final two years ago, and who says that she "listens to music every hour of every day" - was forced to cut down on the beloved ballroom dancing of her younger years as tennis took precedence.

It's a hobby Ostapenko still misses; regular karaoke sessions with friends have filled the gap somewhat - but despite being a fan of Russian rappers such as Skriptonit and Timati, she still opts for slower, more manageable songs when in the booth.

A recent venture into the recording studio has inspired Ostapenko, though. Earlier this month, the Wimbledon semifinalist made her music video debut in a safety campaign for Latvian Railways, rapping lines about throwing your phone away to look both right and left before crossing railway tracks. "Oh, it was a lot of fun," she grins. "It was my first time in a studio - I did it with some other athletes and famous people in Latvia. Everyone told me I was good!"

Though clear that the advertisement was light-hearted fun rather than anything serious, it's nonetheless got Ostapenko pondering next steps. "I enjoyed it so much," she muses. "I'm thinking of getting some vocal lessons to improve my singing - and maybe I will release something later!"

Ostapenko already admits to frequently getting the songs tournament DJs play during changeovers stuck in her head as she tries to focus on the match. In time, those tunes may well be her own.