PARIS: French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko will head to Wimbledon as the sport’s newest star admitting that she once believed grass courts were suitable only for football and not tennis.
The 20-year-old Latvian stunned favourite and world number four Simona Halep 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 on Saturday to become tennis’s most unlikely Grand Slam champion.
It was her first career title as she became the lowest-ranked winner in Paris, taking the trophy in just her eighth major appearance.
Next up on the Grand Slam circuit is Wimbledon where Ostapenko was junior champion in 2014.
However, she admitted that when she came across a grass court for the first time, it was hardly love at first sight.
“When I first played on grass I didn’t like it, I really didn’t understand it,” she told reporters following her shock Paris win as she recalled playing on grass at Roehampton in England as a 15-year-old. “I didn’t see how people could play tennis on it. I thought grass is for soccer. But then I learned how to play on it and understood the movement. Now I really like it.”
Ostapenko said she was more than comfortable dealing with her sudden fame which will be under a harsh spotlight when Wimbledon starts in four weeks’ time.
Her home town of Riga got in the mood on Saturday when thousands of her compatriots watched her victory on a giant TV screen erected in front of the city’s iconic Freedom Monument.
“It’s not scary to have the attention, it’s always nice to have fans,” said Ostapenko, suddenly $2.3 million better off and with a new world ranking of 12 to her name from her current 47. “Of course, there will be more pressure but I will try and deal with it. It may be difficult but I chose the life of a tennis player.”
Now that Ostapenko has one Slam under her belt, she is hungry for more.
“It was always my goal to win a Grand Slam title, now I want to win them all,” she said.
Her ambition will be slightly easier to achieve now that Serena Williams, her idol, is off the tour, expecting her first child in September.
But Ostapenko said she will be sad that Williams will not be at Wimbledon as she sees a lot of the American’s feistiness in herself.
“Serena is my idol,” said the youngster. “She has a strong personality which I like and she has a really aggressive style on court. She’s fun to watch.”
Ostapenko’s game certainly mirrors the 35-year-old American’s power.
In Saturday’s final she fired 54 winners and 54 unforced errors.
She ended Roland Garros with 299 winners — more than any woman or man in the tournament.
“If I am having a really good day and I’m hitting really well, I think anything is possible,” she said.