Unseeded Ostapenko carves route to French Open women's final

Ostapenko celebrates a victory on the French Open's clay courtThe 2017 French Open has been full of surprises on the women’s side. First, Serena Williams withdrew from the tournament—and the remainder of the season—due to her first pregnancy, then top-seeded Angelique Kerber suffered a stunning first-round upset, leaving the clay-court grand slam title up for grabs. But nobody expected unseeded teenager Jelena Ostapenko to seize the moment and make history by storming her way to the final, making some history along the way.

Ostapenko turned 20 on Thursday, the same day she defeated Timea Bacsinszky to become the first Latvian to advance to a grand slam final. She knocked off 11th-seeded Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals and took down veteran Samantha Stosur in the fourth round, coming back after dropping the opening set in both matches. Ostapenko had never been past the third round of a grand slam before, but Kerber’s first-round loss meant Ostapenko’s third-round opponent was fellow unseeded competitor Lesya Tsurenko instead of the No. 1-ranked women’s tennis player in the world, paving the way for a victory in straight sets.

Far from being a timid youngster on the big stage, Ostapenko has been the aggressor in each of her matches, unafraid to make unforced errors while overwhelming her opponents with powerful shots from both her forehand and backhand. She often surprised her more-seasoned opponents by smashing forehand winners from unexpected spots like on the return of a wide serve, which is something Simona Halep will need to be prepared for in Saturday’s final.

Halep’s road to the final was considerably more difficult, with wins over fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina and second-seeded Karolina Pliskova. Halep showed great resilience during her quarterfinals comeback against Svitolina, never wavering or panicking while staving off elimination down 5-1 in the second set. She’s been to the French Open final once before in 2014, when she lost to Maria Sharapova, and she can draw from that experience on Saturday when she attempts to win her first grand slam title and become the world No. 1 for the first time in her career. Halep’s challenger may be someone she isn’t familiar with, but if Ostapenko’s play this tournament is anything to go by, she will be a familiar face soon enough.