A frequent tradition at Grand Slam tournaments is for the finalists to take part in a press conference the day before the next day’s match. For the likes of Serena Williams, the give-and-take of these interviews is as familiar as a holiday dinner. Pass that question here. Bring another one there. Hello to you. Goodbye to you. We’ll see you tomorrow.
But then there’s Jelena Ostapenko. Only two days ago, she was still a teenager. Today she was one day into being 20, on the eve of her first Grand Slam singles final, a bubbly Latvian who said, “it’s always fun to have press conferences to answer some nice and funny questions.” Let’s just say that a few years into a player’s career that’s not an answer you’re likely to hear.
It’s now well-known now that Ostapenko spent much of her childhood as a ballroom dancer. This press conference revealed more. Said Ostapenko, “It really helps my footwork because you need to be very coordinated and those small steps are helping.”
We also learned bout her appreciation of pop music and books; though when asked about the most recent book she’d read (a pet topic for many writers), Ostapenko said, “I don’t know how to say it in English, the name. But yeah, it was really interesting with some nice – like, there was a lot of – how do you say interesting things happening. And it was really interesting to read because I wanted to know it will end.”
Such is truly permissible at this stage. Read a story? Ostapenko these two weeks has been composing one herself, a tale that no matter what happens marks an amazing journey. In Rome, at her last tournament prior to Roland Garros, Ostapenko got into the main draw via the qualifying, entering Paris ranked 47th in the world. Those days on obscure courts are now over. Should she win the tournament, Ostapenko will be ranked eighth in the world. Lose the final and she’ll be 12.
Following the press conference, Ostapenko headed out to Court 5 for a practice session, smacking her strokes into all corners. There is a bit of Monica Seles in Ostapenko, an awareness that the ball has no idea what the score is and that it exists solely to be struck – in Ostapenko’s case, with vigor, impunity and youthful joy.
Tomorrow we’ll see how that takes shape. Sometimes players compete in their first Grand Slam final with the notion of consequence in deep background. Such was the case, for example, when Maria Sharapova beat Serena Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final. But other times the occasion can be staggering, as happened to Natasha Zvereva when she was beaten 6-0, 6-0 in 32 minutes by Stephanie Graf in the 1988 Roland Garros final. Said Ostapenko, “I’m just going to prepare and enjoy the final tomorrow.” As someone once said on another occasion, it’s the smart move.
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