When Tuesday began, anyone looking down the list of players left in the French Open women’s draw might have believed that destiny was finally smiling on Caroline Wozniacki. After two years of hearing herself described as a “Slam-less No.1,” and many more years of answering questions about when she was going to win a major title, the 26-year-old suddenly had an opening. This time there was no Serena. There was no Vika. There was no Maria. There wasn’t even an Angelique. There was no one who, theoretically, she couldn’t beat.
Destiny kept smiling through the first set of Wozniacki’s quarterfinal with 19-year-old Jelena Ostapenko. The Latvian is a born ball-striker with terrific timing who can hit winners from any position. But that timing can be fragile, and the wind that whipped through Roland Garros in the early afternoon was playing havoc with it. Wozniacki, steady as she always goes, won the first five games and held on for the set, 6-4.
But the fact that, despite her greater experience and superior consistency, Wozniacki barely escaped a set she led 5-0, which should have let us know that maybe this wasn’t going to be her moment after all. A closer look at her head-to-head record with her opponent revealed that, if there was one woman Wozniacki didn’t want to face in Paris, it was Ostapenko. The Latvian was 3-0 in their three previous matches, and two of those meetings had come on clay this spring.
A closer look at Ostapenko’s record in general would also have revealed that it wasn’t just Wozniacki she’s been beating on clay this spring. Ostapenko has been building up to this run for two months. In Charleston, she won five matches to reach the final, and in Stuttgart, Prague and Rome, she won three matches apiece—some of of them were in qualifying, but when it comes to your confidence, any win is an important win. Ostapenko’s work with new coach Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain was paying off on the surface.
By the time she had reached the third round at the French Open, Ostapenko was locked in. She was so convincing in her 6-1, 6-4 win over Lesia Tsurenko that Tsurenko predicted that she might win the tournament. Maybe those words made Ostapenko think, and believe, because in the next round she pulled off a surprising comeback from a set down against Sam Stosur, and she would go on to do the same against Wozniacki.
“In the first set conditions were really tough,” Ostapenko told Tennis Channel on Tuesday. “It was really windy and Caroline was playing really good and she didn’t miss anything.”