Unseeded Latvian Jelena Ostapenko was just as excited as she was in shock following her stunning French Open title win, claiming her first Grand Slam trophy with a comeback 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over third seed Simona Halep.
Following a stunning run to the title at the French Open, 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia was at a loss for words to describe her first tour title, yet alone a maiden Grand Slam trophy at Roland Garros. The unseeded Ostapenko shocked the tennis world, fighting back to defeat two-time finalist and third seed Simona Halep 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in a high-quality battle on the terre battue of Court Philippe Chatrier in Paris.
Only hours after the biggest moment of her life, hoisting the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in front of a packed Parisian crowd, Ostapenko was in a jubilant mood trying to discuss her surprising run to the title. While many expected the newly-turned 2o-year-old to fold under the pressure of a Grand Slam final on one of the sport’s biggest stages, Ostapenko flourished under it despite falling behind early on down 6-4, 3-0 to the more experienced Romanian Halep.
“Yeah, I knew I’m already in the final and I’m playing such a great player as Simona. And I was losing 6-4, 3-0, and then in my mind I was just, I’m just going to enjoy the match, and I will try to fight until the last point. And then I stayed aggressive and the match turned my way,” said Ostapenko.
Asked to describe her plethora of emotions following her first tour-level title at the French Open, the Latvian said, “Yeah, I’m really happy to win here. I think I’m still — I still cannot believe it, because it was my dream and now it came true. I think I’m going to only understand that in maybe couple of days or couple of weeks,” commented a still stunned, yet smiling Ostapenko.
For any player winning a maiden Grand Slam title marks a monumental turning point in their tennis careers and their lives as a whole. Looking at how this victory, becoming the first major champion from the small, European country of Latvia will change young Ostapenko’s life, the 2o-year-old said, “I mean, I’m really happy, but I still have to improve some things and to get better as player. And so I will work hard to climb the ranking and to maybe win some more titles,” said the new world number 12.
Having new won a tour-level title or gone beyond the third round at a major, this fortnight in Paris was a major milestone for Ostapenko. While many would have been extremely nervous and overwhelmed in her shoes, the confident and composed Latvian seemed to take it all in stride, believing in her ability that she belonged on that stage.
“Actually, yeah, I slept very well. I was not nervous yesterday and today also. But before the match, five, ten minutes, I a little bit nervous. But then when I went on court, I felt quite free. But when I was losing second set, then I felt a little bit nervous. But then I felt I have nothing to lose, so I’m just going to enjoy the match and do my best.”
Clearly unphased by the nerves and the moment at least to the outside, Ostapenko closed out the final with a blistering return winner down the line to seal the title. A hallmark of the 20-year-old’s game is her aggression and powerful groundstrokes, so when match point came, it was only fitting she closed it out with her trademark weapon.
“I mean, as I said, I still cannot believe I won, I won the title, because my dream came true. So, yeah, was just trying to go for shots when I could and match point. And I was just, Okay, I have nothing to lose, I’m just going to hit winner. Or if I miss, okay, I have another one,” commented the unseeded Latvian.
Still only 20 years old, the future is incredibly bright for Ostapenko. A former junior Wimbledon champion, the Latvian seems destined to be able to accel across all surfaces. Asked about her ambitions now for the following years in her career, Ostapenko said, “Of course I would like to win probably all of the Grand Slams. It’s my goal, I think. But I’m just going to try to work hard now and try to reach the high ranking.”
While Ostapenko’s immense natural talent cannot be underestimated, it can’t go unnoticed the incredibly positive impact clay-court coach and former Spanish double great Annabel Medina Garrigues has had on young Ostapenko. After teaming up for the clay court season, Ostapenko reached her first WTA final on the green clay of Charleston at the Volvo Car Open en route to winning here in Paris, all under Medina Garrigues’ influence.
“We were working in one month since Stuttgart tournament, and we were working on some things. And also she’s very experienced. She was helping me. So, yeah, was really nice,” commented the Latvian.
While Ostapenko is currently on the high of a maiden major crown at Roland Garros, the big-hitting rising star is still prone to inconsistencies within matches and throughout her career so far. Asked to describe the journey up to this point, Ostapenko said, “Of course there were some bad moments when I was losing some matches, like, first round, first round. But then I was, like, Okay, I still have to work and one day I think it will change. And if I work hard, I will start winning.”
And boy was Ostapenko right. Her hard work combined with her confidence, aggressive mentality, and powerful groundstrokes have led the Latvian to this monumental moment in her career. And if the still very young 20-year-old can keep up the red-hot form she showed the tennis world this fortnight in Paris, then odds are we’ll be seeing a lot of Jelena Ostapenko in the future.
EXCLUSIVE: How The ATP Plans To Make The Tour More Welcoming For LGBT Players
The governing body of men’s tennis has received praise for taking a proactive approach to the topic with the help of a leading LGBTQ+ organisation and a top research university.
During the first week of the US Open, there was an abundance of rainbow-theme flags and wristbands worn by both players and fans to mark the tournament’s first-ever Open Pride Day.
The event was part of the USTA’s Diversity and Inclusion strategic platform which aims to make tennis more inclusive. Unlike the women’s game, there are no openly LGBTQ+ players on the men’s Tour and there have been few historically, even though various players have spoken of their support for anybody on the Tour who decides to come out. Including Stefanos Tsitsipas and newly crowned US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, who were questioned about the topic following their second round matches. Meanwhile, Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime revealed that there is an ongoing survey related to LGBTQ+ issues being conducted by the ATP.
“Recently I’ve started doing a survey inside the ATP about the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “It’s important these days to be aware of that and to be open-minded and the ATP needs to do that, in today’s time it’s needed.
“The reason we don’t have openly gay players on the ATP Tour, I’m not sure of the reason, but I feel me, as a player, it would be very open, very welcome. Statistically, there should be some, but for now there’s not.”
In response to Auger-Aliassime’s comment, UbiTennis looked into the work currently being done by the ATP alongside two other parties. Their decision to venture into LGBTQ+ representation on the Tour is part of their recent commitment to support the mental health and wellbeing of their players and staff. Last year, in May, they formed partnerships with Headspace and Sporting Chance.
The survey currently being conducted by the ATP started after the governing body of men’s tennis reached out to Lou Englefield, the director of Pride Sports, a UK organisation that focuses on LGBTQ+phobia in sport and aims to improve access to sport for all LGBTQ+ people. Through their connection, they contacted Eric Denison, a behavioural science researcher at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences. Denison was the lead author of the Out on the Fields study, the first international study on homophobia in sport and the largest conducted to date.
“I have been personally impressed with the initiative of the ATP and their desire to find ways to mitigate the broad impact of homophobic behaviour (in particular), not only on gay people, but on all players.” He told UbiTennis during an email exchange.
“We know of no other sporting governing body in the world that has been proactive on LGBTQ+ issues, and has taken a strong focus on engaging with both the LGBTQ+ community and scientists to find solutions.”
Denison says the norm has been for sports bodies to address this issue after they have been either pressured to do so or if the LGBTQ+ community got the ball rolling themselves. Incredibly, research conducted as part of the Out On The Fields initiative documented 30 separate studies which found sports organisations ignored discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ people in sport.
Monash University has supplied the ATP with a series of scientifically validated questions, which they are using to ‘look under the hood’ at the factors which supports a culture where gay or bisexual players feel they are not welcome. The methodology is similar to a study Denison conducted in 2020 that focused specifically on the team sports rugby union and ice hockey.
“We suspect that tennis isn’t inherently more homophobic than other sports, or traditionally male settings. Instead, there is a disconnect between people’s attitudes towards gay people (e.g. the recent pro-gay comments by top players) and their behaviour, specifically their use of homophobic banter and jokes,” said Denison.
“This behaviour, which is largely habitual, creates a hostile climate for young gay/bi people who drop out or hide their sexuality. This means gay/bi players are invisible in youth tennis and leads to the downstream problem of no professionals. The banter/jokes continue because people think it is harmless.”
The hope is that players will also agree to be interviewed by the researchers for them to get a better understanding. All of the results will then be used by Pride Sports and Monash University to recommend evidence-based solutions. It is unclear as to how long the study will take or when the findings will be ready.
Former top 100 player Brian Vahaly is one of the few players to have been both openly gay and played at the highest level of the men’s game. However, he didn’t fully come to terms with his sexuality until after retiring from the sport at age 27. Speaking to UbiTennis earlier this year, Vahaly shed light on the potential barriers for gay players.
“There were a lot of homophobic jokes made on Tour. It’s a very masculine and competitive environment,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of gay representation, except for the women’s Tour. With me not having the personality of an outspoken advocate (for LGBTQ+ issues), certainly not in my twenties, I needed some time to understand myself. To me, in tennis I didn’t feel like there was anybody to talk to or anybody that was going through anything similar.”
The ATP has spoken with Vahaly about their initiative and he has become ‘quite involved.’ Through their discussions, he got acquainted with Denison for the first time. As a professional, Vahaly peaked at a ranking high of 64th in the world and won five Challenger titles. After retiring from the Tour, he has served on the USTA’s board of directors since 2013.
“I am happy to hear that the ATP is finally taking action to address this issue. I’m impressed they are taking a thoughtful, data-driven approach to make a meaningful difference here,” he told UbiTennis.
The ATP aims to make the men’s Tour more welcoming to potential LGTBQ+ athletes playing either now or in the future. For those who question if such an initiative is important in 2021, you only have to look at the younger demographic.
Sportsnet quoted CDC data from 2019 which showed that 26% of American LGBTQ+ teenagers aged 16 or 17 has contemplated suicide, five times more than those who identify as straight (5%). Among those teenagers who heard homophobic terms, 33% self-harmed and an additional 40% considered doing so.
More than 2000 players around the world currently have an ATP ranking.
2020 Tokyo Olympics, Djokovic on the heat and the new scheduling: “I’m glad they listened to us”
Speaking to Ubitennis, the world number one describes the work that he, Medvedev and Zverev (among others) have done to obtain better playing conditions
So far, the tennis tournament at the 2020 Olympics has made headlines less for the match-play than for the difficult conditions in which it has been taking place due to the heat and the humidity. In the women’s draw, for instance, four players have been forced to retire during their matches: the last one has been particularly shocking, as Paula Badosa was taken off-court on a wheelchair after collapsing late in the first set of her quarter-final match against Marketa Vondrousova. Luckily, these issues appear to have finally caught the attention of the International Tennis Federation: starting tomorrow, no match will be played before 3pm (7am in the UK).
Part of the credit for this (still belated) decision goes to the lobbying and the complaints of the players, as world N.1 Novak Djokovic explained while speaking to Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta in Tokyo: “I’m glad the decision was made to reschedule tomorrow’s opening matches at 3pm. Today we went to speak to the supervisor – when I say ‘we’ I mean myself, Medvedev, and Zverev, along with the team captains. I have spoken to Khachanov and Carreno Busta as well, so the majority of the players who will feature in the quarter finals was of the same opinion.
“Of course I would have wished for this decision to be made a few days ago, but it’s still a good thing,” he added. “Nobody wants to witness incidents like the one that occurred to Badosa.
“The conditions are really brutal. Some people might think that we are just complaining, but all resistance sports (and tennis should be included among them) are taking place later in the day because the combination between the heat and the humidity is really terrible.”
He then concluded: “I’ve been a professional tennis player for almost 20 years and I’ve never experienced such hard conditions for so many consecutive days. It may have have happened once or twice in Miami or New York, but just for one day, whereas in Tokyo the situation is like this every day. I think that this decision will benefit the fans as well, because playing later allows us to play our best – these conditions were just draining for us.”
Article by Lorenzo Colle; translated by Tommaso Villa
Mats Wilander Exclusive: Matteo Berrettini Will Win A Grand Slam
UbiTennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta speaks to the former world No.1 about Berrettini’s historic win at Wimbledon.
Swedish tennis great Mats Wilander has praised Matteo Berrettini for his run to the Wimbledon Final during a one-to-one interview with UbiTennis.
25-year-old Berrettini has become the first Italian man in history to reach the final of the Grand Slam after beating Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 6-0, 6-7(3), 6-4. Throughout the clash he was impressive behind his serve where he fired 22 aces and won 86% of his service points. This year he is unbeaten on the grass and is currently on a 10-match winning streak following his triumph at Queen’s last month.
“Breaking the first game of the fourth set is to me the sign that we all look for in players. Whatever happens in the third (set) should not matter and he came straight back,”Wilander tells UbiTennis.
“That’s my indication that he will be one of the best players in the world. He will win a Grand Slam one hundred percent, for sure, if he stays healthy.”
Wilander’s bold prediction centres around Berrettini’s game on both grass and hardcourt. However, he is less optimistic about his chances on the clay at present until his backhand becomes more powerful.
As to why the former world No.1 has so much confidence in Italy’s top player, he says it is his ability to not expose his weaknesses during matches. Drawing parallels between him and Roger Federer. The player Berrettini comprehensively beat in straight sets earlier in the week.
“He knows how to hide his weakness and most great players know how to hide their weaknesses. Roger Federer is the perfect example. His backhand compared to the serve and the forehand. He stays alive with the slice and he comes over (to the net) sometimes when he has to,” he said.
“I think Matteo has figured out that he can stay alive with the slice. But the difference is that he is willing to slice and come in. He’s also double the size of Federer at the net so it is difficult to pass him.”
It wasn’t until the age of eight when Berrettini started to focus more on tennis after being asked by his younger brother to play more. As a professional he has won five ATP titles since 2018 and is the highest ranked ATP player from his country since Corrado Barazzutti back in 1978. He is coached by Vincenzo Santopadre, Marco Gulisano and Umberto Rianna.
“I would be so encouraged if I was coaching him. For the coach it must be like oh my god we are looking at a player who has (good use of his) hands and hides his weakness though the rest of his game,” the seven-time Grand Slam champion commented.
“I don’t why it has taken him a bit longer (to break through). I know he started a little bit later but I think he’s a natural at the big moments.”
On Sunday Berrettini faces the ultimate test against Novak Djokovic who will be seeking his third consecutive Wimbledon title and sixth overall. He has lost to the Serbian twice before on the Tour, including the French Open earlier this year. The Italian enters the final as the underdog but Wilander thinks he shouldn’t be underestimated.
“I think he has a good chance, I really do because that serve (of his) is different and he has a different forehand. He is not afraid to stay alive,” he concluded.
UbiTennis’ full interview with Wilander can be listened to below
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