The match Tuesday night in Bogotá between No. 1 seed Jelena Ostapenko Latvia and big-time underdog Kristie Ahn was chock-full of drama.
At more than 8,600 feet of altitude, the Latvian’s already-inconsistent serve was put to a stern test.
And after 2 1/2 hours and three saved match points, Ostapenko succumbed to the No. 205-ranked Ahn, one of several lucky losers to make the Bogotá draw after a rash of last-minute withdrawals.
This victory, against a former world No. 5 and French Open champion, was the biggest of the 26-year-old former college star’s career.
Ahn had suffered an eight-match losing streak in main-draw singles since defeating former No. 5 Eugenie Bouchard in the first round of the Chicago Challenger last September. That caused her ranking to plummet from No. 142 to as low as No. 226 earlier this year.
Coaching consult a highlight
But there was a really fun side story to this one, in addition to all of the crazy drama on the Bogotá center court.
Ahn, as the underdog, was getting a lot of support from the crowd – there were epic moments on the on-court coaching side.
But she also had the support of a growing and supportive NCAA sisterhood. It’s an under-reported story on the WTA, one that deserves more attention.
That they have other women to turn to – in a collegial spirit that harkens to their NCAA days – has to help during those moments when they’re finding it tough out there.
Most, like Ahn, aren’t in a position to have traveling coaches or sponsorship deals.
But with a big group of current and former college players traveling the circuit playing doubles together – often swapping out doubles partners depending on how tough the tournaments are to get into – the American had some kindred spirits to choose from to lend a hand.
On this night, it was Canadian/Kiwi Erin Routliffe, herself a college star at Alabama and a former top junior.
Coaching advice – and laughs
The coaching consult at 4-5 in the third set, as Ostapenko had just broken Ahn and was about to serve for it, was full of laughs – and some good advice, too.
“When you’re returning, what really messes her up is when you change your positioning. She freaks out. You’re going to win this match if you take your chances,” Routliffe said.
“Anyway, this is great. Everyone loves the women’s on-court coach thing,” she added.
The downside of this, of course, is that these moments highlight the difference between the haves and the have-nots on the WTA Tour.
Having a full-time, professional coach is just one of the advantages that the players already ranked higher have against those aspiring to reach those heights.
But nobody said life was an even playing field.
A dramatic finish
There was an overrule, then a corrected overrule, in Ostapenko’s “favor” on a break point in that 10th game. Ostapenko had already double-faulted – No. 13 on the night – on match point.
After that, on her second match point, she double-faulted again. And then, on the third break point, she double-faulted – again.
Suddenly, Ostapenko was serving at 5-6 to stay in the match. And at love-40, it got even crazier.
Somehow, the Latvian saved three match points. She missed a sitter backhand into an open court by a mile to hold serve and force a tiebreak. On her fourth opportunity, Ahn closed it out.
It was hard to tell on the WTATV stream. But it looked like an excellent crowd – especially on a chilly Tuesday night. And they were right into it – notably, a number of girls and young women were hanging on every point.
Coaching stress for Routliffe
The 23-year-old Routliffe, close to her best career doubles ranking at No. 102, had great fun with the people in the next box. Although she told Tennis.Life Wednesday that it was all pretty stressful.
She would be just the right person you would want to come out and give you a pep talk, though. Smart, bubbly, and so positive, it seemed she had just the right things to say to help Ahn get over the line – with some help from Ahn’s tenacity and Ostapenko’s 56 unforced errors (including 16 double-faults).
New Zealand-born, Canadian raised, Routliffe has opted to represent New Zealand because of a greater number of opportunities that would present.
Despite her impressive junior resumé, standout college career and promising results on the doubles circuit, she appears to be far down on the Tennis Canada pecking order.
The tournament didn’t update the on-court coaching sign-in. So fans watching at home may have thought Routliffe was actually another blonde, American Hayley Carter, dispensing the advice and the laughs. Carter had been by Ahn’s side during the qualifying.
Routliffe said she expected to be back on the job Wednesday, when Ahn plays local wild card Maria Camila Osorio Serrano in her second-round match.
Because of rain in Bogotá, Routliffe and Fichman went on an alternate court late afternoon. They lost their match 6-3, 6-0 and a few hours later, Routliffe was back on the job).
And this happened.
Later, after Ahn came back and won the second set, this happened.
That’s going to deal a blow to Goffin’s ranking, as he had been defending titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo, Basel, Paris and the final at the ATP Tour finals. He will surely drop out of the top 20.
It’s not the only bum elbow to emerge this week.
Earlier this week, during his first-round match, Canadian Milos Raonic had some treatment in the left elbow area. Although he has gone on to win his first two matches in Tokyo leaning more heavily on his perfectly adequate slice backhand.
Earlier this year, it was a bad elbow that compromised the first half of Nick Kyrgios’s season.
Ostapenko wrist since before Seoul
For Jelena Ostapenko, a left elbow issue contributed to an embarrassing double bagel at the hands of Qiang Wang in Beijing Tuesday.
It was the first 6-0, 6-0 drubbing the 21-year-old Latvian has ever suffered – even going back to her junior days at the ITF level.
At 0-6, 0-5, having signalled she needed the trainer on the previous changeover, Ostapenko had some treatment on the elbow before Wang readied to serve for the match. It was, obviously, much too late by then.
The elbow would not have physically affected the serve and the forehand, both just as problematic in a fairly disastrous outcome. But it would have been on her mind.
Ostapenko said afterwards that she started feeling it back home in Latvia, the week before the tournament in Seoul two weeks ago. The original diagnosis was inflammation, and Ostapenko has been on “very strong painkillers”.
She continued to play, through, through Seoul and a first-round singles loss and two doubles matches in Wuhan, and then first-round win in Beijing over Magdalena Rybarikova.
“I feel it already since a couple of weeks. I thought it was going to be better. Unfortunately today in the warmup, I already started to feel it … After Seoul it got much worse. Unfortunately now I’m feeling it a lot. I couldn’t really play my game because of my wrist also.” Ostapenko told the media in Beijing.
She came into the press conference with a brace on her left arm.
“I thought maybe during the match, when I get warm, it will be better. And I was trying to play until the last point because I really don’t like those retirements during the match,” she added. “Once you go on court, you probably have to complete the match.”
On the hopeful side, Ostapenko has not yet officially withdrawn from a planned participation in the Hong Kong tournament next week.
The list of players who have been compromised by wrist injuries over the last few years need not be reiterated here.
Back woes sideline Halep
For Simona Halep, the back issue that first flared up in Wuhan went from muscle to bone and made it impossible for her to continue during her first-round match against qualifier Ons Jabeur in Beijing.
After losing the first set 6-1, she had to stop.
“The muscle is better, the muscle of the back. But now I started to feel (Saturday) in the bones. All body was really contracted. I couldn’t play,” Halep told the Beijing media after the retirement.
She said she felt it in the practice before the match, and from the get-go in the match.
And when the Romanian returned home to have an MRI, the news wasn’t great.
Halep announced she has a herniated disc.
Hi everyone, wanted to give you a quick update. I had an MRI on my back and found out I have a disk hernia. I will discuss with doctors in the next few days but hope to be back soon and will keep you updated. Thanks for all your support ❤️ pic.twitter.com/tQ6cFTsB9o
The three previous matches between the two – one on hard, one on grass, and one on clay – have all gone the distance. They have played nine sets; there have been tiebreaks in eight of them. And Federer has won the last two.
“I definitely know that I won’t be the favorite, the crowd favorite here. So I go into that match with zero expectation. I do believe I can beat him. I have done it before. It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Kyrgios said after pulling out his second-round win over Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Kyrgios often refers to Federer at the GOAT (Greatest of All Time). So we know where he stands in that mock debate.
Asked what three weapons Federer has that are the most dangerous, he answered thus:
“I think his slice return, his chip return, is the best the game has ever seen. There has never been a better chip return ever. I think if you took that shot away, he wouldn’t be as good because he neutralizes big serves as well. He turns it into pretty much instant offense,” Kyrgios said.
“His serve and first shot unbelievable, very unpredictable. And he’s unbelievably efficient. Never gets tired, doesn’t seem like it. His movements are so efficient. He’s just, yeah, those would be the three things. He’s efficient, serve and first ball, and chip return.”
Another mercurial opponent for the Fed
As for Federer, he’ll be playing a talented but highly unpredictable opponent for the second straight match, after defeating France’s Benoit Paire in straight sets in the second round.
He didn’t drop a set against lefty Yoshihito Nishioka in the first round, either. But you’d have to consider this a pretty good draw through the first few days for him.
Federer hasn’t won the US Open in 10 years, which is right around the time people were starting to “retire” him.
No. 6 seed Novak Djokovic is hardly under radar. But he has hardly had a bump-free road to his third round match against No. 26 seed Richard Gasquet Saturday night.
Djokovic dropped a set to both Marton Fucsovics of Hungary in the first round, and Tennys Sandgren in the second round. He has had his share of tetchy moments with crowd control and his own play – even in practice.
At one point during his hit with Stan Wawrinka last week, Djokovic got so angry at two missed smashes in a row, he reared back and catapulted a ball into the mostly deserted stands inside Arthur Ashe Stadium as hard as he possibly could. Seriously – full swing.
Except… the stands weren’t empty.
One man was sitting there, right on the trajectory of the ball. Had the ball not ricocheted off a seat a few rows in front of the man, it might well have been a direct hit. As it was, the fellow was a bit shook, and less than impressed.
(Wawrinka was just as cranky with the heat that day. But when he smacked a ball, he did it against the backstop on the court, When it bounced back, he was the only one in harm’s way).
But let’s not forget, the heat has been a real bear until the temperatures finally dropped Friday. Tempers have been pretty frayed.
Ostapenko vs. Sharapova – hard-hitting battle
Jelena Ostapenko is a fairly limited player still, who does a couple of things notably well. But you always figure she will get beaten by an opponent who is willing to step right in and feast on that vulnerable second serve.
It’s amazing how few of the women do, though. Most are so uncomfortable with the part of the court they need to be in to do that, they’d rather sit back and wait for the ball to come to them. That, of course, allows Ostapenko to escape punishment on that shot. And her second shot after the return is ridiculously good.
But if there’s a player who’s aggressive enough on the return to do it, it’s Maria Sharapova. She’s built a career on it.
The two have met only once, in the quarterfinals of Rome earlier this year. And it was a battle royale.
“It was a really long, physical match. It was our first ever meeting. So it was a chance to see and feel each other’s game. I was really impressed by her game,” Sharapova said. “She’s young and fearless, comes out swinging. She’s a Grand Slam champion, so that speaks for itself. And she’s got that experience in Grand Slams already. I think she likes the matchup of playing against me. Both quite aggressive players. But I do, as well.”
Ostapenko had all sorts of issues with American Taylor Townsend before closing out her second-round victory. Sharapova had some concerning red flags of her own in a win over Sorana Cirstea of Romania that ended in the early hours of Friday morning. She won it in straight sets. But it was not pretty, and the serve was a major struggle. The Russian was uncharacteristically agitated on the court, for reasons that also included the tough, humid conditions.
Kvitova v. Sabalenka – ditto
Aryna Sabalenka, the 20-year-old from Belarus, is the on-form player coming into the US Open after a great hard-court summer.
Will it stop in the third round on Saturday, against No. 5 seed Petra Kvitova?
The two met in the second round of Miami back in March. Kvitova pulled that one out in three sets.
But Sabalenka is an exponentially better, more confident player less than six months down the road.
WIMBLEDON – There is no way of knowing if Serena Williams’s path to the Wimbledon women’s singles final might have been interrupted along the way, had so many of the top players in the women’s game not been shocked out of the tournament so early this year.
But the way she has been playing, who’s to say she might not be standing in the exact same spot?
Williams didn’t have to face Elina Svitolina, or Madison Keys, or Coco Vandeweghe, or Caroline Wozniacki. The high seeds and big servers that looked to be obstacles when the draw was revealed two weeks ago, fell by the wayside before they got to her.
But in defeating No. 13 seed Julia Goerges 6-2, 6-4 on a day when the much-improved German shows few signs of succumbing to first-time Slam semifinalist nerves, the 36-year-old mom made a statement.
She’s here to win it, in only her fourth tournament back after pregnancy, childbirth and a host of complications in the aftermath.
And it feels like every day, with every match, she’s getting fitter and better.
Favorite or underdog? Serena can’t decide
Williams is the favorite to win the tournament. And some had her as the favorite even before it began. The lady herself is allowing herself to be impressed with what she’s accomplished so far.
“It’s like, ‘C’mon guys, this is pretty awesome’. To hear people say, ‘Oh, she’s a favorite. Like, the last 16 months, I’ve played four tournaments, and was carrying another human half that time. It’s interesting,” she said. “But when I wasn’t a favorite, I was kind of upset about that. It’s like, ‘C’mon, what can make me happy?’ Have to figure out which I prefer.”
There was a different look about Williams when she headed out to Court 9 to warmup for her match, around 11:30 a.m.
It all looked fairly typical. Williams had on a skirt, as she usually does during a pre-match warmup to better simulate what she wears during matches. She didn’t take any volleys, which is typical.
She was silent – as was everyone on her team – save for a few instructions to hitting partner Jarmere Jenkins.
But Williams barely missed. She hit the ball much harder than she often does, and the sound coming off the racket would have intimidated any opponent, had she been nearby to hear it.
That’s what she took to the match court. And despite a hiccup when she served for the match – with new balls, no less – she was nearly flawless.
Pulled out her very best – again
“I don’t know what I expected from this tournament. I just expected to win a match, then win the next match. Whenever I go out there, I just try to win my match. That’s literally all I do,” Williams said.
“I don’t know what my toughest match was. I mean, obviously against Camila (Giorgi), she played really, really well. She pushed me and won the first set against me. But today was tough, as well. Like, I think every match has its challenges. I don’t think any of them have been easy. Each one I have to kind of adjust to.”
Goerges said she was proud that Williams had to pull out her best to beat her.
“Overall I think she knew how to win that match by her experience, and I didn’t have that stage in my career yet. I’m looking forward to getting there another time and getting more experience,” she said. “But overall I’m not frustrated about the way I hit. I think that she steps up her game. Yeah, it’s a big word, which is ‘respect’ towards me that she brings her “A” game in a lot of important moments.”
Kerber stands in the way of No. 8
Of all the possible opponents who managed to scratch their way into the second week, perhaps Angelique Kerber is the most prepared, on form and experience, to take Williams on.
Kerber easily dismissed first-time Wimbledon semifinalist Jelena Ostapenko in the first semifinal.
The 6-3, 6-3 score probably makes it seem closer than it was; Kerber was a willing and able accomplice in Ostapenko’s mission to defeat herself with errors.
It was just the right tactic, although not that many players have the tools to execute it.
Still, it was a great tournament for Ostapenko, as it was for Goerges.
The last time Williams played Wimbledon, in 2016, she also faced Kerber. The American won it, but it was a tight, competitive final.
Williams was all the more motivated because the two had squared off in the Australian Open final less than six months before.
And in that one, it was Kerber who won in three sets to earn her first career Grand Slam title.
Attacking that second serve
What we remember most about that Australian Open final was how Williams was looking in the warmup to practice attacking what was, then, Kerber’s biggest weakness: her second serve.
Then-hitting partner Robbye Poole tried with all his might. But he couldn’t duplicate the feebleness of Kerber’s second delivery.
And, in the end, that was a big key to Kerber’s victory. Williams just wasn’t able to give that second serve the pummelling it deserved. And that allowed Kerber to hold serve a bit more easily than she should have.
Ironically, Kerber’s second serve is a lot better, 2 1/2 years later. So is the rest of her game. But even if she has become a much better attacker, she will still need to rely on her defense if she wants to defeat Williams on Saturday.
“She’s always going out there to win the matches. I think it doesn’t matter against who she is playing. She’s trying to (play) like she played the years before where she won the big matches. Now for sure she had a lot of big confidence, especially after the matches she won here already,” Kerber said of Williams.
“She knows the feeling to (go) out on this stage where you are in the finals, especially here. She won here I don’t know how many times. … Yeah, she’s a fighter. She’s a champion. That’s why she is there where she is now.”
WIMBLEDON – It is most definitely not the semifinal lineup most expected.
But you bet against Serena Williams at your peril.
The top 10 women in the world dropped out of Wimbledon, one by one.
Most dropped out in the very early going.
Maybe they wanted it too much. If there’s anything that unifies tennis players, it’s how much they love this tournament and how badly they want to win it.
(We’ll put a caveat there for the French and other players from clay-court nations at Roland Garros. But even they, generally speaking, seem to consider Wimbledon the wonderland of tennis, this magical place where everything is different and so civilized and wow, being Wimbledon champion would just be something else).
As the last four women standing take the stage, Williams is the lowest seed at No. 25.
And it is only by the grace of the All-England Club that she is seeded at all.
But as the last 10 days have gone by, Williams’s tennis has gotten better and better. And you can see her getting fitter practically by the day.
And the hunger is evident.
So it is Serena and the “Amen Corner” of the women’s draw – the No. 11, No. 12 and No. 13 seeds – who will vie for a spot in the final Saturday.
 Angelique Kerber (GER)
vs.  Jelena Ostapenko (LAT)
They are nine years apart in age, and nine years apart in professional experience with Kerber having turned pro in 2003, Ostapenko in 2012.
But even though both have been around long enough, they have never met before. What a place for an introduction.
And so there are no priors with which to gauge how this match might go. But despite the baseline of both being relentless baseliners, it remains a match of intriguing contrasts.
Kerber, who is now rounding into form after a significant but understandable dip in form following her accomplished season in 2016, has added some oomph to her retrieving game.
Ostapenko is all oomph. The dynamic here is whether the German can retrieve enough balls to force Ostapenko into errors. As well, it’s about whether she can be more aggressive than she typically is on serve return – especially on second-serve return – to put pressure on Ostapenko’s superlative second shot.
Kerber’s second serve, if improved some, remains the most attackable part of her game. There are no questions about whether Ostapenko will give that shot what it deserves.
 Serena Williams (USA)
vs.  Julia Goerges (GER)
At 29, and in her 15th year as a pro, Georges has known ups and downs.
After being in the top 20 all the way back in 2012, she finished outside the top 50 four straight seasons until last year. And this year, she put her toes in the waters of the top 10 for the first time in her career.
Williams and Goerges met for the first time just a month ago at the French Open, after not having played each other since 2011.
In only her third tournament back and her first in more than two months, Williams posted a surprisingly routine 6-3, 6-4 win. The only down side to that win was that it was the match in which Williams injured her pectoral muscle.
That forced her out of her next scheduled match, against Maria Sharapova.
WIMBLEDON – The women’s game is unpredictable these days.
That’s a reality, although the reasons for it depend on your point of view.
It could be parity, and a general rise in overall level that makes more upsets possible. It could also be a corollary to that – that there are numerous very good players, without many true champions in the game at the moment.
With the absence of an indisputable champion in Serena Williams for close to a year and a half, the contrast with the rest of the field is stark.
Perhaps so many of the women wanted to win Wimbledon so badly, their nerves got the better of them, in some cases.
Whatever the reason, and it’s probably a combination of a few factors, here we are.
Draw doesn’t shake out as planned
Here is what the women’s singles quarterfinals looked like on paper, when the draw came out.
We bear in mind that Williams, seeded No. 25, was always a dangerous wild card. Victoria Azarenka, another former No. 1 who has Grand Slam titles on her resumé, also looked to do some damage.
But with the top 10 seeds all long gone – many in shocking fashion – here are the matchups Tuesday.
There were injury concerns with Williams after the French Open, where she pulled out before a scheduled match against Maria Sharapova with a pectoral injury. But as she has played her way into form during the fortnight, who would bet against her reaching the final now?
But first, a stern test against an inscrutable opponent in the Italian Giorgi.
Williams is 3-0 against Giorgi. Their last meeting came in the first round of the 2016 Australian Open. Since then, Giorgi has fallen down the rankings and picked herself right back up.
She plays the same game against everyone she plays. So Williams knows what she’s going to get.
Unseeded Cibulkova lets racket do the talking
There was a fair bit of pushback from Cibulkova before the tournament.
Wimbledon’s decision to award Williams a seed meant Cibulkova, who would have been seeded No. 32, ended up unseeded and therefore vulnerable to a tough early draw.
The Slovak ended up with a friendly draw – in terms of the seeds she faced. Cibulkova defeated No. 22 Johanna Konta, who has been struggling. Then she upset No. 15 Elise Mertens, who was never really considered a serious contender and also has been struggling some in 2016.
No. 1 seed Simona Halep was eliminated by Hsieh Su-Wei. And then Cibulkova defeated Hsieh.
Now, she faces 2017 French Open champ Jelena Ostapenko.
The Latvian had the “worst” happen in Paris, where she lost in the first round in defense of her title. But with that rather heavy rock having fallen off her back, she is having a great Wimbledon.
“In this tournament, she seems to be in the right mood. Yeah, she’s playing aggressive. She’s playing with no fear. She just going for it,” Cibulkova said of Ostapenko.
Williams – Ostapenko final?
Despite all the bigger names in the women’s game (other than Williams) being out long ago, there is one rather appealing potential final matchup that could still happen.
And that is with no disrespect meant to the others, all fine players but with much lower profiles with the more casual tennis and sports fans.
Ostapenko has had a good draw: wild card Katy Dunne, Kirsten Flipkens, qualifier Vitalia Diatchenko (who upset Maria Sharapova), and Aliaksandra Sasnovich (who upset Petra Kvitova in the first round)
The way has, in part, been cleared for her. And she has taken full advantage of it.
Can you picture a Serena vs. Ostapenko women’s singles final?
They have never met; Ostapenko’s rise came while Williams was off on maternity leave.
It would be a heck of an introduction on Saturday.
Of course, that likely means the final will be Cibulkova vs. Julia Goerges.
Tennis.Life has learned that the 50-year-old from the Netherlands, who also has worked with top-five players Dinara Safina, Nadia Petrova and Jelena Dokic during his career, has joined Team Jelena Ostapenko on a trial basis.
And, after Ostapenko ended things with another veteran coach, Aussie David Taylor, Taylor moved on to American Madison Keys.
There had been talk a few weeks ago that this would happen, never officially confirmed. but the Taylor-Keys pairing is reportedly already in London and practicing in preparation for Wimbledon.
After a long run with Samantha Stosur, Taylor worked with Naomi Osaka last year.
Not a secure gig
Ostapenko won the French Open last year but was shocked in the first round this time around. She has yet to settle on a solid, permanent coaching situation in her young career even if her mother, who is a tennis coach, is always on hand.
Taylor joined Team ‘Penko in Australia. But he didn’t last four months.
A year ago, Anabel Medina Garrigues was on board as the Latvian took Paris, but she didn’t return in 2018.
Meanwhile, Canadian Genie Bouchard, whose own coaching situation has been rather rambunctious the last few years, should have veteran sage Robert Lansdorp with her as she plays her first-ever Wimbledon qualifying next week.
Lansdorp, 80, has been with Bouchard in Europe through practice at the Mouratoglou Academy, through to her attempt to qualify at the WTA event in Birmingham last weekend.
MIAMI, Fla. – To pick apart the weaknesses in French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko’s game, you need a few specific skills.
You have to be consistent, and willing to change up the pace and spin to throw off her rhythm.
You have to be fast, to run down enough laser shots to lure her into going for a little too much. And you have to be aggressive on serve return, to make the 20-year-old Latvian pay for those 66 mile-an-hour serves that beg to be punished.
Most of all, you have to be able to shake off the large numbers of winners that she will hit, win or lose, hot or not.
American Sloane Stephens, herself a Grand Slam champion at the US Open last summer, did all of those things.
She hit just six winners, and made a lot of errors. But she exposed the holes in Ostapenko’s game with her legs and her patience, winning the Miami Open final 7-6 (5), 6-1 Saturday.
“I knew that I was just going to have to run a lot of balls down. The way that she plays is she has a very aggressive style, and sometimes you can’t outhit her or outrun her. You just kind of have to accept that she’s going to hit some really great shots. I think that’s what I did best today,” Stephens said.
“When she was hitting great shots, I just was, like, Too good, and moved on. I think that’s what helped me kind of get through that breaker. I just accepted that some good shots were going to be hit and just didn’t harp on it too much.”
It is the second-biggest title of Stephens’s career after the momentum win in New York. Both have come on American soil. In fact, four of Stephens’s six titles have come in the U.S. She won in Charleston in 2016 and in Washington, D.C. in 2015.
Notably, Stephens has made six finals in her career – and won the title every time.
Too many errors, not enough winners
Ostapenko hit 25 winners. But she made 48 unforced errors – 29 in the first set alone, more than enough to give Stephens the set just on her errors alone.
She’s always going to make errors. But if the winners number approaches the errors number, Ostapenko is in her comfort zone. On this day, she was not.
“I’m playing the worst tennis ever,” Ostapenko moaned to coach David Taylor when he came out for an on-court consult with his charge already down a set and 4-1. Actually, she was not. Stephens simply had the tools to disarm her.
The Latvian was very gracious at the net afterwards, and in her trophy presentation speech. For her, the months after the French Open title have featured some bumps in the road.
But at this Miami Open, Ostapenko defeated No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina and No. 9 Petra Kvitova in straight sets. And she won all five tiebreaks she played. She also withstood a hearty challenge from American qualifier Danielle Collins in the semifinals.
The inexperienced Collins was somewhat of a gift draw at that stage of the tournament. But she had momentum on her side, and even had a set point against Ostapenko in the first set.
“Comparing to the other matches I watched her play this week, she was moving really well. She was changing the pace. She was serving sometimes kick, sometimes going for it. I think she’s a great player,” Ostapenko said.
“Sometimes I was going aggressive when I didn’t have to. In the first set it was working pretty well. Then some moments I think I was – I stepped a little bit back. I had to step forward, like, in the court to play the balls in the court so take away time from her, which I didn’t, so probably that’s why I lost the match.”
Finally in the top 10
Stephens, who needed some time after that US Open win six months ago to rest, process, get healthy and reload, certainly wasn’t ready in Australia two months ago. But she hould find this title gives her wings going into the meaty part of the schedule.
“I made sure after Australia I got in the best shape possible. I really just focused on myself and made sure that I was the best version of me,” she sad. ‘Whatever people said, whatever, it is what it is, but now I’m here and I have this beautiful trophy, and no one will ever be able to take that away from me, so I’m just going to walk with my head high and, you know, embrace it.”
Stephens will need wings, given her predilection for home soil. But at the same time, she has everything to gain. The 25-year-old didn’t even start playing until Wimbledon last year, after foot surgery. She has just 11 computer ranking points to defend until the Rogers Cup in Montreal, in August.
There’s a fair gap between No. 10 and the top players; for example, she’s more than 1,000 points behind No. 8 Venus Williams. But there is a move to be made, and Stephens’s game can translate well to clay.
She has played the French Open five times, and four times she reached the round of 16. Each time, she lost to a player who was no worse than the No. 6 seed. And all four of those players were either former French Open champions or finalists.
Next up, the Volvo Car Open
Ostapenko hasn’t entered any events until Stuttgart, the last week of April.
But Stephens will immediately head to Charleston, where she won the tournament (and the Volvo) the last time she played it in 2016.
As the No. 4 seed, Stephens will have a first-round bye, and a few days to regroup. She’ll meet the winner of a match between Bernarda Pera and Jana Cepelova in the second round.
Now, of course, the US Open champion will arrive in Mercedes, as the brand’s new ambassador.