MIAMI, Fla. – A reigning Grand Slam champion smacked down American Danielle Collins’s sky-high dreams Thursday night.
And so 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia will meet another reigning Grand Slam champ, US Open titleholder Sloane Stephens, in a rather unexpected Miami Open final Saturday.
“I saw the match yesterday against Venus, many down-the-lines from the backhand side, so I was expecting a very tough match,” Ostapenko said in her on-court interview after a 7-6 (1), 6-3 victory.
The first set alone took exactly one hour.
“She had a set point in the first set, but I was fighting very hard, and I think it helped me a lot,” Ostapenko said.
Ostapenko dry spell finally broken
The out-of-nowhere French Open title last June was a hard act to follow in the intervening months.
Ostapenko survived a nail-biter she probably should have lost to Canadian qualifier Françoise Abanda in the second round at Wimbledon on her way to a very respectable quarterfinal finish there a month after her French Open run.
And she teamed up with Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski to win the doubles title in Qatar last month.
But Ostapenko’s only other career singles title was at a lower-level WTA tournament in Seoul, Korea last fall.
The rankings of the players she defeated in that event hovered between No. 71 and No. 155.
So reaching the final in Miami is a confidence builder.
It also will buffet her ranking against the potential carnage of an early loss at Roland Garros, when she returns to defend her title.
“Of course I was working on my mentality more, because I need my confidence and to be more consistent,” she said. “Because sometimes I was playing one match amazing, the next one not that great. Now, I’m playing more consistent.”
Having Aussie coach David Taylor in her corner for this swing, even with a surprisingly early loss to Belinda Bencic at Indian Wells, has seemed to be a major plus.
Taylor is offered sound advice on the coaching consults. And better still, Ostapenko is reactive, interactive and seemingly receptive.
Career-high ranking with a win Saturday
If she can defeat Stephens, the Latvian would rise to a career-best No. 4 in the rankings.
Stephens finally jumped into the top 10 this week, for the first time in her career. Win or lose, she will check in at No. 9.
The final will be played Saturday at 1 p.m. – the last women’s final at the Key Biscayne site before the tournament moves inland for 2019.
It may be not a minute too soon.
Ostapenko and Collins got a late start, and it was midnight by the time they finished. An issue with one of the big lighting standards delayed the men’s quarterfinal match played before theirs.
Alexander Zverev and Borna Coric were about an hour and 15 minutes late getting started (Zverev prevailed, 6-4, 6-4). Collins and Ostapenko didn’t start until 10 p.m.
(Screenshots from WTATV)