Samba enthusiast Ostapenko finds feet at French Open
Latvian teenager Jelena Ostapenko credited her passion for ballroom dancing for fuelling her breakthrough performance at the French Open.
The 19-year-old became the first Latvian woman to reach a Grand Slam semi-final at the French Open on Tuesday after stunning Danish 11th seed Caroline Wozniacki 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.
“I’m really happy I still can’t believe it,” said Ostapenko after going one step further than compatriot Anastasija Sevastova at last year’s US Open.
“Of course, when I came here I didn’t expect I’m going to be in the semis, but I was playing better and better every match. So I think if I keep it up, I think anything can happen.”
Ostapenko had never been beyond the third round at a major before arriving in Paris.
She is the first teenager to make the last four at Roland Garros since Ana Ivanovic in 2007.
And the world number 47 believes her use of ballroom dancing as part of her training regime is reaping rewards.
“Of course I think it helped me. And I’m still doing it now just for myself, the dancing. My favourite one is Samba,” said Ostapenko.
The Latvian faces Swiss 30th seed and friend Timea Bacsinszky, through to a second semi-final in three years, for a place in Saturday’s final.
“We are good friends, because we played the doubles in China last year, and that’s how I got to know her,” said Ostapenko.
Thursday’s encounter also falls on the day when Ostapenko turns 20 and Bacsinszky is 28.
“I think maybe this one is one of the best (birthdays). Because to play semi-final of Roland Garros on your birthday, I think it’s really nice,” added Ostapenko.
She is looking to become the first player since Gustavo Kuerten at the 1997 French Open to win their first tour-level title at a major tournament.
Brazilian Kuerten won the first of his three Roland Garros trophies on the same day that Ostapenko was born.
The Latvian has matched Ernests Gulbis’s run to the 2014 semi-finals in Paris, but the teenager would love to go further and usher in the dawn of a new batch of stars.
“Our year, 1997, is pretty strong because we have a lot of players in top 100 and top 50, as well,” said Ostapenko, joined in that same class by the likes of Ana Konjuh and Daria Kasatkina.
“So I think it’s maybe kind of new generation.”