20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko used her aggressive game to win her first title at the 2017 French Open.

By Jon Wertheim
June 10, 2017

PARIS – Nonetheless, she persisted.

In the 2017 French Open women's final on Saturday, unseeded Jelena Ostapenko upset No. 3-seed Simona Halep 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 to win her first major singles title—and her first pro title period.

You can't simulate the experience of playing in your first Grand Slam final. So it is that performances vary greatly. A teenage Maria Sharapova—with only seven major appearances at the time—can show up and take down Serena Williams, as she did at Wimbledon in 2004. Other players walk out, see the trophy in the back of the court, and vaporize. Credit Jelena Ostapenko for skewing towards the former. For seven rounds, the 20-year-old Latvian played with poise belying her experience level.

On Saturday, she continued her abashed bashing. And while she missed plenty—and showed the consequent frustration—she is to be credited for sticking to her aggressive instincts and continuing to fight. And damn, did it pay off. From a set and 0-3 down in the second, and then 1-3 in the final set, she fought back with persistence. 

Tennis
Get to know 20-year-old surprise French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko

After smiting the last of her 54 winners, she is the French Open champion, which, oh yeah, is her first title. What breakthrough event for a player who still has rough edges but does not lack for self-belief. Her reward? More than $2.4 million, roughly doubling her career prize before this event. And she’s more than halved her ranking, now up to No. 12. Wow.

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Simona Halep entered this event as the top contender, the best pre-tournament pick, per the odds-makers. And she did nothing to disabuse anyone of that designation before Saturday.

Tennis
Jelena Ostapenko beats Simona Halep to win 2017 French Open title

For four rounds, the 25-year-old Romanian played slick clay-court tennis, blending defense with offense and cruising. For the latter three matches, she showed fight and a sense of conviction, something not always in evidence in her game. In the quarters and semis, she relished the battle and won in three sets.

But in Saturday's women’s final against Jelena Ostapenko, she let opportunity slip. With the far superior resume and with far superior experience, she tightened, quickened her pace, blew her 6-4, 3-0 lead and offered little to resist Ostapenko’s onslaught. Halep lost the title and lost a chance at the top ranking. This was supposed to be a coronation. Instead, it will mark a deep disappointment that, somehow, she must overcome soon.

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The transition from clay to grass is always the most abrupt and jarring changeover of the tennis circuit. But this year, it will be especially so.

Wimbledon begins in 23 days and it will scarcely be recognizable from the French Open. Roger Federer, of course, will not only take his place in the men’s draw; he may well be the favorite to win. But the women’s draw will look different, too.

Provided she qualifies, Maria Sharapova will be there. So will another multiple Grand Slam champ, Victoria Azarenka, fresh off her maternity leave. Sloane Stephens is returning from injury. Petra Kvitova, a two-time champ, will be a factor as well. All the while, the defending champ, Serena Williams, will not be in the draw. And the defending finalist, Angie Kerber, is in a tailspin. You thought this women’s draw was wide open? We’re about to open wider….

Snapshots from the final

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