Unseeded Jelena Ostapenko fought back to stun third seed Simona Halep and become Latvia’s first Grand Slam champion at the French Open. The 20-year-old trailed by a set and was 3-0 down in the second to Halep – who would have become world number one with a win – but prevailed 4-6 6-4 6-3.
Ostapenko, ranked 47th, had never won a Tour-level title before and was playing in only her eighth Grand Slam. She is the first unseeded woman to win at Roland Garros since 1933.
Halep, 25, was playing in her second French Open final, after losing in three sets to Maria Sharapova in 2014. She had been the tournament favourite this time in the absence of Serena Williams, but again missed out on a first major title.
Ostapenko’s carefree attacking tennis ultimately proved too strong for the consistency and experience of Halep, with the favourite helpless by the closing stages. The difference in approach was clear in the final statistics, Ostapenko ending with 54 winners and 54 errors, to Halep’s eight winners and 10 errors.
Halep looked to have ridden out the storm after twice coming back from a break down to take the first set, with Ostapenko giving it up with her 23rd error and swiping her racquet in frustration.
The Romanian had played the percentages, with just one winner and two errors, and she looked set to end her wait for a major title when she moved 3-0 up in the second.
aA large contingent of Romanian fans was now chanting her name with confidence, but her run of six games in a row came to an end, and Ostapenko grabbed the momentum. She tore into the Halep second serve, stepping inside the baseline and attacking off both sides, and her power was simply too much for her opponent’s defence.
A forehand down the line brought up Ostapenko’s 36th winner, and with it a huge roar from the captivated home crowd, as she drew level at one set all.
Halep took charge again early in the final set, getting the break at 3-1 after taking some pace off the ball and drawing an error, but again Ostapenko came straight back.
A fortunate net cord gave her the crucial break of serve at 3-3, prompting Halep’s coach Darren Cahill to look to the sky in disbelief, but the Latvian was on a roll.
She stormed through the last five games in a row, apparently free of nerves, to clinch victory and grab her place among the elite of women’s tennis.
“I always had the possibility I could hit the ball really hard. If I have a chance to go for a shot, I’m trying for it,” Ostapenko said. “Nobody taught me. It’s just the way I play. And also I think my character is like that. So I want to really hit the ball.
“I cannot believe I am champion at 20 years old. I love you guys. It’s so amazing to be here. I have no words, it is my dream. I’m so happy. I knew Simona was a great player, but I tried to play aggressively and everything turned my way. I fought for every point. I’m glad it finished my way.”