By Jane Voigt
A rain storm swept through Roland-Garros, early today. Another one swept Caroline Wozniacki right off Court Suzanne-Lenglen, as teen ball-blaster Jelena Ostapenko demolished the Dane to move on to her first Grand Slam semifinal.
Her opponent will be Timea Bascinsczky, who through variety, ball retrieval and a cool head, sent one of the two remaining French women — Kristina Mladenovic — home.
Bacsinszky (No. 30) is familiar with the later days of this tournament, having reached the semifinals in 2015 and quarterfinals in 2016. Ostapenko definitely is not familiar with anything remotely associate with any major tournament. This is her third appearance in Paris. In 2016, she lost in the first round of the main draw. In 2015, she lost in the first round of qualification.
Her match today, though, ends her career as a teenager, which has been fun for those covering her progress. Martina Navratilova, calling the match for Tennis Channel, lumped Ostapenko into a pool of teens coming up on the women’s side, saying, with a touch of envy, “The fearless teenagers.”
But, she was right.
Ostapenko cracked 38 winners to every corner and angle on court, making Wozniacki’s life a living hell in her loss, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2. Ostapenko whipped the 11-seed wide to the add court then wide to the deuce court, as if on a lead. She had nothing in defense, her forte, or offensive, as she slid into shots, returned them with no pace and all pretty for Ostapenko to wallop.
“Yeah, aggressive is my style of game,” Ostapenko told Tennis Channel, before leaving the court. “At the end of the match I felt quite confident. Last couple of games I was playing really really well.”
Wozniacki disappointment and probable humiliation translated into a unsportsmanlike departure from Court Suzanne-Lenglen. She didn’t wave or acknowledge fans that had dwindled after many had stuck around during three-and-a-half hours of delays from rain.
Wozniacki should’ve won this match, on paper. Twenty-five career titles. Two-time U.S. Open finalist. But none of that mattered; her game is not suited for clay and any plausible tactics never appeared.
“Now that the wind has died down, Wozniacki has to take control of the points more,” Navratilova said. “[Her] cross-court is much too predictable. She’s got to ge that going down the line; and, she’s not wrong-footed Ostapenko all day.”
Ostapenko is now 4-0 against Wozniacki.
“At first the wind was tough,” Ostapenko said. “But then I found my game.”
And what about the fact that this is a Grand Slam. Roland-Garros. You know, like the biggest of big tournaments? Where were your nerves? Shouldn’t you have demurred?
“I try to enjoy every moment,” she said, grinning. “Because great players are here.”
Her grown-up answers and poise, as she closed the match on her first attempt, nudges her to the vicinity of ‘great players.’ If she goes on to win the French Open, it will be her first-ever career title — a statement that deserves pause. The last time that happened was on June 8, 1997, when Gustavo Kuerten won his first of three French Opens. That was the day Ostapenko was born. (@fiercetennis)
As happenstance would have, that date is Bascinsczky’s 28th birthday as well. So when they meet Thursday to battle it out for a spot in Saturday’s final, they will also be celebrating their birthdays. You cannot make this stuff up.
Will Bascinsczky’s experience outpace Ostapenko’s naivety? No, but the weather conditions could tip the betting scales.
The wind at the time both matches got underway was horrendous, as has been pointed out. Players turned their backs, as loose clay swirled and got in their eyes. Every ball, whether struck with top spin or flat, ended up with side-spin. Fans covered their faces with hats and scarves. “I’ve never seen such wind here before,” Navratilova commented, on Tennis Channel. “I saw branches on the court this morning.”
Ostapenko was down in the first set 0-5 because of that wind and her inability to cope with it. Bascinsczky, though, who won in straight sets 6-4, 6-4 and managed better, although she gave up leads in both sets. Then she broke Mladenovic during the 8th game of set two, after ten minutes of fierce fighting from both women.
Lindsey Davenport, calling the match alongside Navratilova, said Bascinsczky’s foot speed was one of ‘her biggest strengths,’ adding that her drop shots rivaled those of Mladenovic.
Ostapenko took her time, leaving Court Suzanne-Lenglen after her win. She was all into the atmosphere and savored it. She posed with fans for selfies, signed those enlarged tennis balls and tournament guides. She waved, the way the royals do to cheering crowds.
One overarching reality clings to women’s tennis … the every changing champion. For the 16th time a new player has made her way to the semifinals of a slam, the New York Times tweeted. This is not the case with the men. Tomorrow, Andy Murray (winner of three majors), Rafael Nadal (Winner of 14 majors, 9 in Paris), Stan Wawrinka (winner of three majors, The French Open in 2015), and Novak Djokovic (winner of 11 majors and defending champion) will appear in quarterfinal matches. It is possible none will advance to the semifinals, but highly unlikely.