During the quiet weeks leading up to the warm-up tournaments Wimbledonthe essence of Yelena Ostapenko was fully unleashed. For an hour she was on fire in Birmingham in the opening round against Canada’s Rebecca Marino as she quickly built a 6-2, 5-1 lead.
But just when she seemed on her way to an easy win, her level dropped. She found herself in a fight and lost six straight games before eventually bouncing back to claim the three-set win. Almost any gamer would have been unhappy with the breakdown, but even in their frustration, most people tend to voice their thoughts with a degree of tact. That’s not Ostapenko’s style.
“She didn’t really do anything,” the Latvian Ostapenko said to gasp from the crowd. “She hasn’t changed anything up to this result. Then I started fighting against myself, I started missing some balls. But I’m glad I won because I think my level is better than theirs and I showed it.”
The video of Ostapenko’s interview, posted on TwitterShe immediately went viral, her clear language outraged some and angered others. It’s not pleasant, nor does it show the slightest respect for her opponent’s feelings, but Ostapenko’s brand of honesty is insightful and interesting in its own way. Away from the cameras, tennis players are constantly assessing their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, and not always in a constructive way. Ostapenko speaks her thoughts out loud.
“Honestly, in the interviews you have to say what you think,” she said at Wimbledon on Friday afternoon. “What’s the point of giving interviews if you don’t say what you think? I have always been honest in the interviews and with my friends and loved ones and they like that about me.”
Ostapenko’s attitude hasn’t always endeared her to her peers, but that’s why she had the audacity to believe, at 20-year-old No. 47, that she could win the French Open. It could also be why she’s threatening to stitch together another big run. Seeded 12th on Friday, she defeated Irina-Camelia Begu 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 to cement her budding form by claiming a fourth round Grand Slam for the first time in four years reached.
After trailing 3-6, 0-1, Ostapenko won nine games in a row and as her lead increased, she showed more and more of her best. As she crushed the ball and pinned Begu well past the baseline, her vicious, accurate forehand winner made the crowd gasp in the No. 3 seat. When she’s in full swing, she’s one of the most spectacular ball forwards, not only for the raw power she generates with minimal effort, but also for her precision, her ability to hit every line on the court.
Afterwards, Ostapenko spoke at length about the years since her triumph at the French Open in 2017. After her victory, she had returned home to an airport red carpet, a scenario that has stressed her even more than a Grand Slam final . As she adjusted to her new life and status as a Grand Master, she said it took years for her to move on.
This year she clearly has. After finishing outside the top 50 last year, Ostapenko gradually clawed her way back up, heralding her return to the top 15 with a title in Dubai. But such is her inconsistency, her form immediately cascaded and she lost four of her next five matches, including a second-round loss at the French Open. She attributed her struggles to a wrist injury.
The 25-year-old’s form returned at the start of the grass season. Last week she reached the Eastbourne final, losing to Petra Kvitova. This week she is in the second week of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since Wimbledon 2018 when she reached the semi-finals. She next faces Tatjana Maria after her victory over the fifth seed Maria Sakkari.
Sakkari wasn’t the only top-20 seed to fall on Friday, with 2018 champion No. 15 Angelique Kerber also eliminated as the bottom half of the draw opened for Ostapenko and Ons Jabeur.
When asked about her outlook for the rest of her tournament, Ostapenko shrugged: “Especially when I win, I think I’m a dangerous player for other opponents, so I just hope I can continue.”