It’s hard to believe it’s been just three years since Jelena Ostapenko shocked the world and captured the 2017 Roland Garros title as a teenager. While she wouldn’t trade it for the world, she admits the ensuing pressure was a little too much, a little too early in her career. Her inconsistent results and steadily decreasing ranking signaled she wasn’t quite ready for life with a target on her back.
“I mean, after I won it was a tough time,” Ostapenko told press. I had to get used to the pressure but now it's all gone, and finally I won my first match after two years, like, not winning a match here. I'm really happy with that.”
Ostapenko will face a fellow enigmatic and unpredictable opponent in Karolina Pliskova, who was lucky to advance after narrowly escaping world No. 172 Mayar Sherif 6-7 (11-9), 6-2, 6-4.
“No matter how, I mean, terrible was my level, I still somehow like believed, let's say, but after first set was very tough,” Pliskova told press.
The huge-hitting Czech is well on her way to becoming the best female player never to win a major. Pliskova has spent the bulk of the last five years planted firmly inside the world’s top-10, with an eight week stint at No.1, but has just one major semifinal appearance in the last three years.
Ostapenko and Pliskova are two of the streakiest players on tour. When hot, they can hit anyone off the court. When cold, they submit some truly head-scratching results, like Pliskova’s second-round dud against Caroline Garcia at last month’s US Open.
“With Jelena, we had some good matches, some strange matches,” Pliskova told press. I think she's a lot up and down but for sure she can just play well. From the baseline she can just like really hit the ball. She can make a lot of winners, but also a lot of mistakes.”
Pliskova owns a 3-2 head to head advantage over Ostapenko, but they have never played on clay. First serve percentage will be paramount in this match, as both players, especially Pliskova, crush second serve returns.
Ostapenko, who owns one of the best backhands down-the-line in the business, will need to use that shot early and often to force Pliskova out of her offensive-minded comfort zone.
“If there is consistency in my game, I think I’m going to be a very dangerous player and it’s going to be not easy to beat me,” Ostapenko said.
Predicting a match between two players this mercurial is a fools errand, but Ostapenko is perfectly capable of upsetting the Czech, who owns just a 12-8 record throughout her career at Roland Garros.
The Pick: Jelena Ostapenko