Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
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Jelena Ostapenko cracked 50 winners to reach her first French Open title, where she’ll play Simona Halep.
Ostapenko ovecame her friend and fellow birthday girl, Timea Bacsinszky, 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3 to become the first Latvian to reach the French Open final. Pre-tournament favourite Halep beat Czech Karolina Pliskova, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to reach her second final in Paris.
“The ball of the ambitious ones,” was the headline on Roland Garros' daily newspaper, highlighting a women’s semi-final line-up entirely devoid of Grand Slam champions.
And spectators with tickets to the main Court Philippe Chartier were treated to a display of aggressive baseline tennis that was reminiscent of the days of three-time champion Monica Seles.
In a battle full of momentum shifts that lasted close to two-and-a-half hours, Bacsinszky put up great defence but succumbed in the end to the spectacular shot-making of her opponent, who has been likened to a “Baby Kvitova” for her ability to hit angled cross-court forehand winners in a similar fashion to the two-time Wimbledon singles champion.
“I'm really happy with my win today and was really tough match,” said former junior Wimbledon champion Ostapenko, at 20 the youngest player to reach the Roland Garros final since Ana Ivanovic in 2007.
“It was a battle. I'm really happy to be in the final, especially on my birthday. It's a nice gift.”
A tactic that has been described by some as “see ball, hit winner,” drew gasps from the crowd on the main Court Philippe Chatrier as Ostapenko ripped 21 winners in the first set to take it on the tie-break with a huge serve followed by a monster forehand drive volley.
Bacsinszky, who had 14 winners and 11 unforced errors in the first set, cleverly changed tactics in the second, as she produced three winners and just four mistakes.
With a warm, southerly wind swirling around the court, the 28-year-old Swiss stopped trying to outhit her opponent but instead tried to unsettle the 47th-ranked Latvian with a combination of slice, surprise drop returns and the occasional moon ball.
After forcing a break at 3-3 on an error, Bacsinszky took the match into a deciding third set as Ostapenko double-faulted.
“She was going for many lines,” said Bacsinsky, who failed to serve out the first set at 5-4 after getting a medical timeout on her knee early on in the match. “She did hit many lines, more than I expected, to be honest.”
The Swiss, who had been playing in her second Roland Garros semi-final after losing to Serena Williams in 2015, said she had been in pain while trying to push off on her serve.
After three straight breaks of serve to start the third set, Ostapenko was the first player to hold for 3-1. It looked like Ostapenko was starting to waver as Bascinszky clawed the break back in the next game from 30-30 on two consecutive backhand errors.
But the match was decided at 3-3, when Bacsinszky played a sloppy game to drop her serve for the seventh time. Serving to stay in the championship at 3-5, Ostapenko aimed the first return straight at her feet, followed by another that landed just before the baseline.
A forehand return winner earned Ostapenko two match points, which she converted on her second with her 24th forehand winner.
“She's 20, not afraid of anything,” Bacsinszky said. “Best example is the match point. I serve very well wide. She's hitting as hard as she can down the line from nowhere. It comes that much above the net and in the corner. Who tries that? Seriously? It's like 1 out of 10. But she does it. So we'll see if she does it at 28 years old.”
Although Ostapenko has appeared in three finals, she can blow hot and cold and has yet to win a tournament. The last player to win his first title at the French Open was Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten on June 8, 1997.
This was, incidentally, the day Ostapenko was born.
Can history repeat itself?
Pliskova doesn’t think so.
“No doubt that Ostapenko she's having a good run here, and she's dangerous player for everybody, but I would bet everything what I have on Simona,” said the Czech.
“Maybe hardcourt, grass would be different -- but I think on clay, with the way how she's moving and how many balls she's putting back, I think she has a very big chance. Still doesn't have to happen, but I think she has it in her hands.”
Halep had been 4-1 up in the first set when Pliskova broke back for 4-3 before another break helped the Romanian to clinch the set.
Second seed Pliskova forced a deciding set after breaking in the sixth game of the second set, and it was a case of deja vu in the third, when Halep once again led 4-1 before Pliskova rallied back to 4-3. Halep, though kept calm, breaking for 5-3 to serve it out.
“I'm not finished,” said Halep, who lost the 2014 final to Maria Sharapova and has never played Ostapenko.
“It's of course a big match,” said Halep, who will become the new world No.1 if she wins. “It's a big challenge, as well. I will play a very young player. There is nothing to lose. I have just a big chance to get to things. I will go there and give my everything, for sure."
Average forehand speed at 2017 Roland Garros:
Dominic Thiem: 84MPH
Stan Wawrinka: 81MPH
Rafael Nadal: 79MPH
Andy Murray: 73MPH