PARIS, June 10 (Reuters) - Jelena Ostapenko says “anything is possible” when she is hitting the ball true and it was hard to disagree as she addressed a Roland Garros news conference with the Suzanne Lenglen trophy for company on Saturday.
Earlier the 20-year-old, playing at the French Open for only the second time, could not have struck the ball more sweetly for most of the one hour 59 minutes it took her to beat Romania’s Simona Halep 4-6 6-4 6-3 and become Latvia’s first grand slam champion.
Ostapenko, whose main interest used to be ballroom dancing before the thrill of whacking the felt off tennis balls became more satisfying, struck 54 winners against Halep, one of the game’s greatest retrievers.
She also committed 54 unforced errors -- a statistic that might have purists turning up their noses.
That, though, is the way the Latvian livewire goes about her business. It is a form of tennis blackjack in which, when asked to stick or twist, she opts for twist -- every time.
On Saturday, when she might have shown signs of nerves in the biggest match of her life, Ostapenko began with three huge winners in the first game and ended with a backhand return winner rifled down the line before Halep had moved.
Her tournament total of winners was 299 while her unforced error tally ran at 271 -- putting her just in credit.
The psychological effect her attacking style has on her opponents is hard to quantify.
Halep looked drained by the end as the match was effectively taken out of her control. It was either a blinding Ostapenko winner or an Ostapenko mistake, there was little other way a point could finish.
The bubbly character from Riga answers questions in a similar fashion to her playing style -- rattling off quickfire answers with an innocence that endeared her to the Parisian crowd.
“Parade?” she giggled when asked if she would be welcomed back with a public ceremony in Riga.
“Actually, yeah, I think it’s a quite bit deal in Latvia. My match they had on a big screen in the city centre. That’s quite impressive.”
Amazingly it was Ostapenko’s first title on Tour with her previous highlight coming in 2014 when she won the junior title at Wimbledon. By the time she arrives back at the All England Club in a few weeks she will be one of the players to fear, with a game that could be devastating on grass.
“Of course I would like to win probably all of the grand slams. It’s my goal, I think,” said Ostapenko who will climb from 47th in the rankings to 12th on Monday.
“I‘m just going to try to work hard now and try to reach the high ranking. Sometimes I was making too many unforced errors. So if I can reduce them, I think that will be helpful.”
Her new-found fame might add some pressure to her arm but it would be a shame if Ostapenko ever veered away from a style that is a breath of fresh air in a sport where waiting for errors rather than gambling on winners is drilled into juniors. (Editing by Clare Fallon)