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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, February 18, 2022

Jelena Ostapenko

Jelena Ostapenko hit through Simona Halep 2-6, 7-6(0), 6-0—her fourth straight win over a major champion—to drive into the Dubai final vs. Veronika Kudermetova.

Photo credit: Getty

Armed with her Wilson Blade and menacing drives, Jelena Ostapenko continues to make major champions endangered species in Dubai.

An aggressive Ostapenko overpowered Simona Halep 2-6, 7-6(0), 6-0—her fourth straight win over a Grand Slam champion—to drive into her first final of the season at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

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In a rematch of the 2017 Roland Garros final, Ostapenko showed superb skill for the kill shot and convincing closing power overwhelming two-time major champion Halep.

It is the third straight match Ostapenko, who swept 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in her opener, recovered from a set down to take down a Slam champion. Ostapenko rallied past 2020 Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(4) in the round of 16 then denied match point toppling two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(9) in yesterday's quarterfinals. 

"Every round I play a Grand Slam champion so it’s not the easiest draw," said Ostapenko, whose voice sounded hoarse after an impressive 96-minute triumph. "I mean every match is a really tough one. So I was really ready for a fight, for a battle.

"I think the mentality was good this match even though I didn’t feel so well. Obviously, I played singles and doubles two days in a row. I was just fighting and managed to win the match."

The 21st-ranked Ostapenko will play Veronika Kudermetova in tomorrow's all-unseeded final, which will be the first meeting between the pair.

"I know her since juniors," Ostapenko said of Kudermetova, who is also in the doubles semifinals. "We were even playing doubles together sometimes.

"Yeah, she's a good, aggressive player. She has a good serve. I think if I play my best tennis, try till the very last point, like all the matches I did, I think I have pretty good chances against her."

Charleston champion Kudermetova advanced to the final without striking a shot today as her scheduled semifinal opponent, Czech qualifier Marketa Vondrousova, was forced to withdraw due to a right adductor injury she aggravated in her quarterfinal conquest of Dayana Yastremska yesterday.

"The injury started a few days ago,” Vondrousova said. “And I’ve played so many matches here it just aggravated the injury. I’m really sad to leave the tournament this way, but I’ve still enjoyed a great week. I’ll travel to Doha and see how the injury is. I’ve played six amazing matches this week having come through qualifying. I’m proud of my performances so it’s unfortunate this happened. Health is the priority for me.”

Former world No. 1 Halep carried an 11-1 record onto court and had not dropped a set in Dubai prior to today's semifinal.

The weight of Ostapenko's crosscourt drives and her sniper skill changing direction and sliding shots down the line forced Halep to defend for much of the final two sets. Halep said she will draw the positives from reaching her second semifinal of the season.

"I was there. I was very close to win it," Halep said. "I don't really say that it's impossible to win against her. Just, yeah, the third set was not what I wished because I was not in my terms.

"Like I said few times already, I stopped playing. That is not so good. But I'm not going to ruin everything just for that set. I just look forward for the next one and I see only the positives."

The crackling comeback was reminiscent of the 2017 Roland Garros final when Ostapenko punished 54 winners roaring through 12 of the final 16 games hitting Halep right off the court, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, to capture her first career championship in Paris.

"She was playing completely different tennis from what Petra was playing," Ostapenko said of Halep. "She was playing much slower, almost no pace comparing to Petra. So I really had to step in from the beginning, which I didn't do. I was stepping back. I didn't go into the court.

"When I understood it and changed things, so it started to go my way."

Initially, it was going Halep's way.

A series of probing returns from Halep drew a netted backhand as the Romanian drew first break blood for a 3-2 lead. Halep backed up the break at 30 for 4-2.

The depth of Halep’s crackling returns came back quickly on Ostapenko unsettling the 2017 Roland Garros champion. Ostapenko bumped her third double fault into net as Halep scored her second straight break for 5-2.

Wasting no time between points, a focused Halep slashed her third ace down the middle to seal the 26-minute opener on a four-game run.

The two-time Grand Slam champion’s serve set the tone: Halep served 62 percent, moved the serve around the box shrewdly and won 11 of 13 first-serve points. Halep permitted just five points on serve in the set.

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The 24-year-old Latvian defeated three consecutive Grand Slam champions—Sofia Kenin, Iga Swiatek and Petra Kvitova—en route to this semifinal. However, the physical toll of back-to-back 7-6 in the third-set wins over Swiatek and Kvitova seemed to deplete Ostapenko, who used the drop shot effectively to stop her slide at four games holding to open the second set.

Finding her range, Ostapenko gashed a deep return right down the middle backing her opponent up before she fired a forehand winner earning her first break for a 2-0 second-set lead. Ostapenko consolidated for 3-0.

Former world No. 1 Halep answered with a three-game run of her own, breaking at 15 in the fifth game and winning eight of 10 points to level after six games.

Staring down a set point at 5-6, Halep was defending off her back foot when she drew a netted error to end a 16-shot rally. The Romanian netted her second double fault of the game as Ostapenko gained a second set point. Moving well inside the baseline, Ostapenko had a good look at a second serve but drove her backhand return into net.

Despite some shaky serving, Halep dodged two set points holding to force the tiebreaker.

Ostapenko, who beat two major champions in a row in third-set breakers, rocketed her level to a place Halep could not match in the breaker.

The world No. 21 hammered a forehand return winner down the line for 3-0, blasted a serve down the T for 5-0 then banged a big backhand winner down the line closing a brilliant breaker of controlled aggression at love to force the final set after 75 minutes.

An assertive Ostapenko drilled 18 winners in the second set—15 more than Halep—and continued that shotmaking spree to start the decider.

Ostapenko roared through 11 of the last 12 points slamming a forehand drive volley to break at 15 to start the third set.

"I knew I have to play aggressive no matter what, no matter what the score is," Ostapenko said. "She really doesn't like to play against players who are playing aggressive and take time away from her.

"I really knew that I have to do it today, all the match, even if I miss sometimes, which I did. I think it helped me to win."

The cumulative effect of Ostapenko ravaging the Romanian’s second serve spooked Halep into netting her seventh double fault to drop serve again and fall into a love-3 hole.

Ostapenko was crunching crosscourt drives reducing the reaction time of the Romanian in rolling out to a 5-0 lead. When Halep sent a shot into net, Ostapenko was through to her 11th career final. Ostapenko is aiming for her fifth career title, while Kudermetova will try to claim her second career championship.


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