LONDON (Reuters) - Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko is one of the best “finishers” in tennis and should be considered a favourite for the Wimbledon title, according to former world number one Mats Wilander.
The 20-year-old was unseeded when she turned the women’s game upside down with her incredible run to the French Open title -- thumping 54 winners and taking the last five games of a rivetting three-set final to stun Romanian Simona Halep.
She has brought her fearless brand of tennis to the Wimbledon lawns and is now in sight of becoming only the third player in the last 21 years to complete the monumental challenge of winning the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back -- the others being all-time greats Steffi Graf and Serena Williams.
”You should definitely be talking about it now,“ Swede Wilander, working as an analyst for Eurosport, told Reuters. ”She is improving with every match.
“At the French she played better the bigger the matches were, the tougher the scoreline was, she seemed to thrive on the pressure. The way she finished the matches at the French Open was unbelievable. She is fearless.”
Ostapenko’s progress has been relatively low-key at Wimbledon, where she is seeded 13th, and she has yet to play on Centre Court or Court One. On Monday the Latvian faces Ukraine’s number four seed Elina Svitolina out on Court 12.
A lack of air time means that talk of a possible French/Wimbledon double, something Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert also achieved, has not really gathered momentum.
“We’re not talking about it because I guess people think ‘Who is going to win the French and Wimbledon in the first year they win a title of any description,” Wilander, who won three French titles but never went beyond the quarter-finals at the All England Club, said.
”The likelihood is very small statistically but you have to consider it now seriously. She knows how to win. I would put her in there as one of the big favourites.
“The way women’s tennis is now most women play like they are waiting for the other girl to run out of bullets. But Ostapenko never seems to be short of firepower.”
The fearless Ostapenko’s must next overcome Svitolina -- another big-hitter -- for a place in the quarter-finals.
”They’ll be hitting the crap out of the ball,“ Wilander said. ”They are two of the best young players out there.
”Svitolina moves a little bit better than Ostapenko but Ostapenko goes for it a little earlier in the rallies. The way she plays she can take you out of the equation.
“I‘m not saying Ostapenko will win Wimbledon. But she is no one-slam wonder. She has no fear and will not go away.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris