Jelena Ostapenko kept up her remarkable run of defeating a former Grand Slam champion in every round at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Friday evening. While she defeated Simona Halep in the semis, she let the crowd — quite audibly — know what a place in the final meant to her.
The Latvian world No. 24 made the final for the first time in five attempts here in Dubai, defeating Romanian former world No. 1 Halep 2-6, 7-6, 6-0 in three dramatic sets on Centre Court, and even lost her voice while motivating herself and hollering for support from the crowd.
- Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships: Marketa Vondrousova pulls out of semi-final
- Look: Novak Djokovic visits Expo 2020 ahead of Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
- Dubai Duty Free Tennis championships final is still a long way off, says Simona Halep
- Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships: Ons Jabeur looks on the bright side after quarter-final loss to Simona Halep
Ostapenko has now seen off Grand Slam champs Sofia Kenin, Iga Swiatek, Petra Kvitova and Halep on her way to a showdown with Veronika Kudermetova on Saturday evening. And, just as she has all week, she is taking everything in her stride — even a lost voice.
“Playing a Grand Slam champion fourth match in a row, it’s not easy,” Ostapenko just about managed to say through a seriously rasping throat. “I am just happy with the way I was fighting. When things didn’t go my way because I felt a bit exhausted at the beginning, I needed time to just get warmer, get into the match and eventually win.
“Every match was really tough. I was just focusing more on myself. I knew it was going to be a tough battle and I fought until the very last point.”
A Romania-heavy, pro-Halep crowd swung in Ostapenko’s favour as she fought back to take a dramatic second set on a tiebreak and screamed for the onlookers to get behind her. And they did.
Apologising for her voice afterwards, Ostapenko said: “I lost it I think from the screaming on the court. I am always screaming, even in practice, but I was screaming too much this time — at myself and also for the fans. That’s probably why it’s this way.
“I just wanted fans to be more pumped up. After I won the second set, most of the fans were cheering for me. When I won the second set, I did like hands in the air, waved at them to get going and they really responded. It was fantastic and I am glad I could repay them with that great third set.”
The 24-year-old fought back from a set down for the third match in a row against Halep, and is looking forward to a well-earned rest, when she gets one, as she is also competing in the doubles before heading to Doha for the Qatar Open.
“There is only one more day left,” she said with a little tired smile. “So I’m going to try to think positive, not going to try to think if I’m tired or not. I’ll play this tournament, Doha, and then we’ll take some rest. I’m just going to try to focus on tomorrow.”
Kudermatova received a walkover as qualifier Marketa Vondrousova was forced to pull out of their semi-final just hours before they were due to play.
Vondrousova withdrew with a right adductor problem. “The injury, it started a few days ago and I’ve played so many matches here which has aggravated it,” she said. “I’m really sad to leave the tournament this way but I’ve still enjoyed a great week and proud of how I’ve played. I will travel to Doha and see how the injury is. I’ve played six amazing matches this week having come through qualifying and proud of my performances so it’s unfortunate this has happened. Health is the priority for me.”
Ostapenko knew what she was facing as news filtered through of Vondrousova’s withdrawal just before she faced Halep.
“I knew it already before I went on the court,” she said. “Nobody told me but I saw she was at the physio. Unfortunately it happens sometimes to the players. It’s probably not the nicest way to finish in the tournament, being in a semi-final and have to pull out. I hope she feels better.”