Arguably, one of the biggest upsets of 2017 was played out on Court Philippe Chatrier in front of a packed crowd, with the unseeded Jelena Ostapenko shocking third seed Simona Halep to claim her maiden Grand Slam trophy after prevailing in a thriller. Other than being a massive upset, this affair was also a high-quality encounter with both players putting up an excellent display of aggression against counterpunching, with the Latvian youngster ultimately proving too good for the huge favorite.
Also a contender for the best comeback this year, Ostapenko had to dig herself out of a 4-6, 0-3 40-AD deficit having made too many errors early in the match, though she managed to regain her composure quickly and started to fire on all cylinders, overturning another 1-3 deficit in the deciding set to claim the first title of her career — and it was a big one. Ostapenko was born on the same day Guga Kuerten won the title in Paris 20 years ago, in the exact same conditions as the Brazilian was also unseeded and had not won a career title coming into the tournament. In 2017, Ostapenko managed to replicate his achievements, and labeled herself as a player to watch with this victory.
Halep steals the tight first set
In what was her first ever Grand Slam final, Ostapenko made a firing start as she fired a couple of backhand winners to take the opening break in a blink of an eye. However, Halep replied in the best way possible as she hit her first and only winner of the set — and it was a return winner before Ostapenko went for the lines but failed to execute her shots well, allowing Halep to break straight back.
Halep continued to force the errors from the Latvian, but Ostapenko was able to regain her lead with some merciless winners, leaving no grounds for the Romanian to play her top-notch counterpunching tennis. Inconsistency popped up for Ostapenko, who failed to consolidate her break once more as she allowed Halep a way back. Tight games followed but Halep soon found herself being just a game away from claiming the set at 5-4 up, with Ostapenko having to serve to stay in the set. Halep’s relentless and stubborn defense ultimately had the last laugh, as the Romanian came out of nowhere to steal the first set 6-4 after 37 minutes of play.
Ostapenko completes improbable comeback
After grabbing the opening set, Halep’s confidence only grew further when she earned a tough hold from 0-40 down in the first game of the second set, coming up with some solid groundstrokes to challenge Ostapenko on the baseline. Everything started going wrong for the Latvian, who was broken after her countless unforced errors proved to be costly. A 3-0 lead for Halep soon ensued, with a maiden Grand Slam trophy just being nine points away as she earned yet another few break points in the fourth game.
With everything clicking together for Halep while Ostapenko just could not find her feet, the second set started to turn a little one-sided. However, the fourth game was the longest of the match and also turned the tables as it ultimately proved pivotal in deciding the outcome of the encounter. Halep was indecisive on her chances, being too overly-passive as Ostapenko took advantage to remain in contention, getting the incredibly tough hold in the marathon 14-point game to get on board during the set.
Unexpectedly, that game gifted Ostapenko with the rhythm as she started to fire on all cylinders, rattling off four consecutive games against the world number three. Halep was visibly helpless against the merciless offense from the Latvian, having failed to convert two break points in the sixth game as well. Halep started to get increasingly tight while Ostapenko started to swing freely and like what Timea Bacsinszky said, “Maybe she (Ostapenko) drinks pressure.” From out of nowhere, the 20-year-old youngster ultimately came out of nowhere to claim the second set, letting out a huge roar after converting set point with the court getting fired up.
Halep fails to convert her chances as Ostapenko stuns the world
Halep was in some deep trouble in the opening game of the deciding set as she conceded two break points but she produced an excellent forehand down-the-line winner which saved her from the brink, grabbing the confidence-boosting hold. Unexpectedly, despite what people usually stereotype Halep as “mentally frail”, the Romanian proved them wrong as she made the first breakthrough in the decider as Ostapenko started misfiring once more.
This time, Halep opened up a 3-1 lead but yet again, she was pegged back by the inspired Ostapenko as the third seed felt the pressure on her shoulders. Three tight games followed, but the crucial points were all won by the Latvian as Halep failed to take her opportunities, with the match being thrown wide open. For the first time in the final set, Ostapenko took the lead with her neverending winners, and she finally managed to consolidate the break as she edged closer than ever to a maiden Slam. Serving to stay in the match despite being so close to victory an hour earlier, Halep crumbled under the nerves as Ostapenko impressively closed out the match in some fashion — her 245th winner of the tournament.
Stats Corner: Ostapenko just too good for the passive Halep
Ostapenko performed excellently on her first serves, winning 69 percent of points behind those solid serves. However, both the Latvian and Halep were disappointing off their vulnerable second serves, winning a combined 20 points off them throughout the whole encounter. Ostapenko’s average second serve speed was also relatively shocking, with her 114 km/h second serves being an easy target for the Romanian. However, the Latvian also had an incredible 13 return winners during the affair.
The youngster’s hard-hitting tennis was a huge risk — ending the match with 54 winners and 54 unforced errors. Most notably, 23 of her errors came in the first set alone, which could possibly explain why she lost the first set as she failed to find the rhythm on her shots. Whereas, Halep had just eight winners and 10 errors throughout the encounter, showing that the match was largely decided by Ostapenko, whose winners and errors played a crucial part.
Reaction from the players
Just coming off a heartbreaking loss where she had countless opportunities to close out the match, Halep mentioned that “it was a tough moment” but affirmed that she “will keep working” to improve on her results in Paris during the upcoming years. “I think it was a good tournament. To play final, it's an amazing thing.” Nonetheless, it has been an impressive tournament for the Romanian, who reached the final having defeated many quality players in succession.
Speaking of her own performance, Halep mentioned, “I don't believe I did something wrong, too wrong today. I think I played okay. I played well.” She acknowledged the fact that she “was close, but lost it”, and could only “look forward” to the future. Certainly, the pressure affected her greatly before the final, especially when she was the huge favorite coming into the encounter. “This one hurts a lot maybe because I am more -- I realize more what is happening. Three years ago was something new, so now I know. Hurts a lot, and I need time just to -- I don't know. To go away”
The first few questions of Ostapenko’s press conference immediately jumped into the topic of her incredible comeback, and the Latvian was quick to respond as well, “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.”
From being the world number 47 entering the tournament, Ostapenko left Paris as the world number 14 and also with a “Grand Slam champion” tag being stuck on her. “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.” From having 100-1 odds to claim the title before the fortnight, this was certainly one of the biggest upsets this year.
Aftermath: Both players experience successful 2017
Halep was just nine points away from her first Major title and the number one ranking, and she would have some nightmares considering that this was her best opportunity to claim the title. The Romanian edged closer to the top spot in the following months but always ended up a millimeter away as the number one ranking evaded her in all possible ways. After what seemed like an eternity, Halep finally became the 25th WTA top-ranked player in history in Beijing and ending the year there. Ironically, Halep defeated Ostapenko to get to the top spot.
The triumph brought Ostapenko into the top-20 for the first time in her career, and with relatively no points to defend throughout the remainder of the year, the Latvian capitalized on her opportunities and added a title in Seoul to her accolades. A quarterfinal appearance at Wimbledon followed, while she also reached the semifinals in Wuhan and Beijing which allowed her to make her debut at the year-end WTA Finals, ending the year as the world number seven.