Tennis

French Open champ Jelena Ostapenko beats Elina Svitolina to reach Miami Open semifinal

Jelena Ostapenko returns a shot against Elina Svitolina, of Ukraine, during their match at Miami Open tennis tournament on Wed., March 28, 2018 at Crandon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscayne.
Jelena Ostapenko returns a shot against Elina Svitolina, of Ukraine, during their match at Miami Open tennis tournament on Wed., March 28, 2018 at Crandon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscayne. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Jelena Ostapenko, 20, and Elina Svitolina traveled a long way from their tennis roots to meet Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the Miami Open.

You see, Ostapenko hails from Latvia (5,262 miles from sunny South Florida) and Svitolina was born in the Ukraine (5,704 miles).

The fans at Stadium Court saw them put on quite a show with Ostapenko winning a two-set match by taking both sets — barely. She needed to win tiebreakers in both sets for the 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-5) victory that thrusts her into a semifinal against the winner of Wednesday’s late match between Venus Williams and Danielle Collins.

Aggressive play was the key to Ostapenko’s triumph as she whistled shot after shot that would be two inches or so inside the line or even grazing it.

“Before the match I knew that I had to be very aggressive, and when I had a chance I was going for it,” Ostapenko said. “Of course, I was missing some because I was trying to play aggressive the whole match, but I think my winners are more than the unforced errors.”

Ostapenko’s claim to recent fame is winning the 2017 French Open, becoming the first player from Latvia to win a tennis major and also becoming the first unseeded player to capture the French title since 1933.

Coming into the Miami Open, Ostapenko had few expectations, especially after a so-so performance in her previous outing at Indian Wells.

“I just come to play every tournament, the first round and then match by match,” she said.

In the second set, Ostapenko went up 6-2 in the tiebreaker and appeared to be cruising.

However, Svitolina won the next three points before Ostapenko put it away.

“I think I was just rushing a little bit too much,” Ostapenko said of possibly letting the tiebreaker get away from her. “I wanted to hit winner from almost every position. I think that I had to play a little bit smarter, but in general being aggressive helped me.

“I’m trying to be more consistent but being aggressive is important.

“I’m not afraid to hit the ball.”

Svitolina accepted the defeat without complaining and just tried to resign herself to losing such a close match.

“This was another day and she [Ostapenko] was playing great tennis,” Svitolina said. “I was tactically playing a little bit not the right way.

“Yes, all in all, I was a bit disappointed.”

She willingly accepted blame for the loss.

“Mentally, I was a little bit on and off and really didn’t focus on the right moments and the right things.

“You know, because Ostapenko is such a great player, she doesn’t miss many opportunities. I’m disappointed I couldn’t bring my best game. I was not there and she was playing unbelievable shots. There were so many balls on the line from her. So many winners.”

Svitolina plans on going home and doing some recuperating in addition to working on her game.”

“It’s time to go home, recover and then — yes — go back to work.”

OLD AND YOUNG

Ostapenko, at 20, will be the youngest Miami Open semifinalist in history. If she should meet Williams, at age 37, she will be playing this year’s oldest player in the tournament.

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