Tennis

Ostapenko: I need to stay aggressive against Halep

Attack versus defence the main 
theme of women's singles final

Latvian daredevil Jelena Ostapenko started tennis practising against a wall - she would be well advised to remember those early experiences when she faces master of defence Simona Halep in today's French Open women's singles final.

The 20-year-old, looking to become the first unseeded woman to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup since 1933, blazed her way to the final, hitting winners and errors with reckless abandon against Swiss Timea Bacsinszky in the semi-finals on Thursday.

"I need to stay aggressive and to play my game. However, it's going to be a tough match and I have to be ready for it," said Ostapenko yesterday. "Yesterday, in the second set, I was a little bit nervous. Maybe you couldn't see that, but I was a little bit nervous inside.

"But, today, I'm feeling fine because tomorrow is the final. So I'm just going to prepare and enjoy the final tomorrow."

Ostapenko is the youngest French Open finalist since Ana Ivanovic in 2007 and the first unseeded women's finalist since Mima Jausovec lost to Chris Evert in 1983.

She also has the chance to emulate the darling of Roland Garros, Gustavo Kuerten, by making the French Open her first career title - the feat the Brazilian achieved in 1997 on the day Ostapenko was born.

She revealed yesterday that her mother received a call from the country's president Raimonds Vejonis after her semi-final win over Bacsinszky.

"Yesterday a lot of calls from Latvia, even the president of the country called. So was really nice the attention from my country," Ostapenko said yesterday.

"He actually called my mum. I mean, because nobody knows my phone. But, yeah, it was really nice, because the president called. That means a lot."

Ostapenko, the 2014 junior Wimbledon champion, admitted that she expects quite a reception when she returns home after her stunning display in Paris.

"Tennis is not popular in our country because it's a kind of expensive sport," she said. "Probably I will have a lot of attention when I come back home."

Third seed Halep, on the other hand, had to dig deep to reach her second French Open final, showing the classical clay-court skills that marked her out as many people's pre-tournament favourite.

Nowhere was her tenacity and ability to soak up punishment more apparent than in the quarter-finals when she trailed Elina Svitolina by a set and 5-1, but somehow found a way to win.

Should she win today, the Romanian will be the first player since Justine Henin in 2005 to win a singles title at Roland Garros after saving a match-point.

Halep is also attempting to join Ilie Nastase and Virginia Ruzici as just the third Romanian Grand Slam singles champion.

With so many big names absent from the draw, this could be Halep's best chance to land a first Grand Slam, but that is not all that is at stake.

TITLE BRINGS TOP RANKING

The 2014 runner-up, bidding to become the first Romanian woman to win at Roland Garros since Ruzici in 1978, would also move atop of the WTA rankings with the title.

"Since Virginia, no one (from Romania) has won a Grand Slam. So it's going to be a big thing if I do it tomorrow," said the 25-year-old, who began the tournament with doubts over her ankle.

"Of course, this match is really important and I will not hide the heaviness that it has.

"I would like not to think too much, because it puts more pressure.

"I say always that I play well with the pressure, but now, I don't need it. I just take it like a big day, a big match.

"I will give my best to make happy more people at home."

Halep admitted that she has learnt some important lessons from her three-set loss to Maria Sharapova in the 2014 final and is keen to shut out any unnecessary distractions.

"Three years ago, it was like, 50 people around me, my family, friends, everyone," said Halep.

"So now I will stay with my team, same routine, same things and I just want to get ready for tomorrow.

"I'm a different player, my game is stronger, I think more about the game, I play smarter.

"Also, I'm physically much stronger and the attitude is better. I'm much stronger than in 2014. I'm not thinking that is the final. I'm thinking just that it's a normal match.

"But, of course, I take the pressure because I love it."

Ostapenko will no doubt try and blast Halep off balance with her relentless attacking game, but the Romanian is ready for whatever the Latvian throws her way.

"She's hitting very strong balls, but I will focus more on myself. I'm not focusing on her too much," said Halep.

"It's going to be a big match, tough match. I know that.

"She can play her best tennis. She has nothing to lose, but I'm ready." - WIRE SERVICES

French Opensingles