TORONTO, Canada - The last time the tour rolled into Toronto’s take on the Rogers Cup, Swiss superstar Belinda Bencic stunned Simona Halep to reign supreme in The 6, signaling the surge of a new generation.
Jelena Ostapenko broke new ground for that ever-growing Generation 1997 when she won her maiden major title at Roland Garros in June, also rallying past the Romanian in three grueling sets.
The 20-year-old took that momentum to Wimbledon, where she narrowly lost to Venus Williams in the last eight, and aims to keep up her high tide in her Toronto debut.
“It was good to have those couple of weeks at Wimbledon,” she told WTA Insider at the draw ceremony. “It was a tough match against Venus, of course, but I’m happy I made the quarterfinals. After a big win, it’s difficult to keep that level up because of the pressure and expectations.
“Now I’ve had good preparation for the hardcourt season, and I’m looking forward to my first match here.”
Always confident and ever-ambitious, Ostapenko still sees her fortnight in France as having come earlier than expected, but nonetheless part of the master plan, one that began taking shape during the Australian summer swing.
“Winning the French Open was an amazing feeling because it was one of my goals to win a Grand Slam. So, I did it this year at the age of 20, and I’m really happy about that. In general, the season has been good, and I started well. I made the semifinals at the ASB Classic in Auckland.
“Between that and making the third round of the Australian Open, it really gave me confidence to start the year as well as I did. I was playing better and better, and hopefully I can keep it up to the end of the season.”
The No.12 seed was a game from beating now-WTA World No.1 Karolina Pliskova in Melbourne, and admits to making necessary adjustments as her new ranking makes her a prime target for the very upsets she used to cause.
“I have more confidence now, but I also have more pressure. People expect more from me as I come to tournaments as a French Open champion. Other players are preparing better against me, and everyone wants to beat me. So on one side, it’s better to have this confidence, but also on the other side, it’s tough.”
Things were not too tough for Ostapenko in Downtown Toronto, as she sat alongside fellow 1997 star Francoise Abanda; the two played a dramatic three-setter at the All England Club but were all smiles as they looked back on the match and reminisced on their time as juniors.
“A lot of good players born in 1997 are now on tour and it's really nice to see,” she said, citing her four contemporaries - Daria Kasatkina, Ana Konjuh, Naomi Osaka, and Natalia Vikhlyantseva - currently ranked inside the Top 100 alongside her. “We all played in juniors together and now we're here. It's nice to see a new generation come up.”
The pair enjoyed a small photo opportunity in front of a fossilized dinosaur, giving Ostapenko the chance to check out the vast museum.
“I haven’t had too much time to see the city because I just arrived a couple of days ago. Hopefully, in the next few days, I will have the time to see more. I like to see new things, see historical things, as well. If I have time, I would go visit, and see some nice things there.
“I like different things, looking at the dinosaurs, for example. I also like when museums have different collections. When we were in St. Petersburg, we had a nice excursion to the Fabergé museum, and it was amazing. It was very impressive; those Fabergé eggs are so rare, and there are so few left in the world.”
Weather permitting; Ostapenko will play her first match against a qualifier, with a projected third round match against fellow French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova on the horizon. Lengthy rain has already served to disrupt the qualifying tournament, but the youngster already has her Plan B in place should a storm halt her match.
“The good thing about rain delays is that you don’t always have to get up so early, and you can get a little bit more sleep!”