Former French Open champion, Jelena Ostapenko attempts to reach her first WTA final since last year’s Miami Open when she confronts 2018 Linz finalist, Ekaterina Alexandrova on Saturday.
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It was only two seasons ago that Ostapenko won the Roland Garros title, while she was still inside the top- five up until May last year, but the Latvian has tumbled to a current ranking of No. 72, following an indifferent run of form over the last year.
After reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon last season, Ostapenko did not make a quarter final for the rest of the year, sliding out of the top-20 as a consequence, and that decline has continued through 2019, with the 22-year-old stuttering to a 19-25 win-loss record for the season. Before Linz, she had made just one quarter final all season, in Birmingham, and reached the third round in Charleston, Eastbourne, Toronto and the US Open in the only other tournaments where she was able to put together more than one win.
For the first time this season, Ostapenko has won three consecutive matches, beating Tamara Korpatsch 6-1 6-3, Alize Cornet, who retired while trailing 7-5 4-1, and Elena Rybakina 7-5 6-1 to make the Linz semis. Ostapenko hit eight double faults against Rybakina, but she was solid behind the big points, saving seven of the eight break points she faced. After an exchange of breaks midway through the first set, the Latvian stepped on the gas and pulled away, winning nine of the next ten games to close out the win after an hour and 13 minutes.
Standing between her and a seventh career final is Russia, Alexandrova, who is attempting to reach consecutive finals in Linz.
Alexandrova was ranked outside the top 100 prior to Linz last year, but she reached the maiden tour-level final in her tournament debut (lost to Camila Giorgi), breaking back into the top 100 as a result. She went on to secure a personal best year-end ranking of No. 73.
The 24-year-old will smash that record this year, as she is currently operating at a career-high ranking of 35th. Alexandrova hasn’t made a final since that Linz effort from last season, but she has put together a solid 2019, and has steadily been on the rise. She has made semi-finals in Budapest, Seoul and now Linz, and quarter finals in St. Petersburg, s-Hertogenbosch and Eastbourne, while she had notable third-round runs at Indian Wells, Roland Garros, Toronto and Beijing.
The Russian No. 1 needed three sets to get through her first couple of matches in Linz, beating Kristyna Pliskova 3-6 6-0 6-1, and Laura Siegemund 7-6 2-6 6-4, but she came through her quarter final against Kristina Mladenovic in straight sets, winning 6-2 6-4 to reach her third semi-final of the season.
Alexandrova won 76% of points on her first serve against Mladenovic, and a tidy 64% on her second serve points, giving up just the two break points all match. The only hiccup she had came midway through the second set when Mladenovic broke for the 3-2 lead, but Alexandrova’s response was instant, as she broke straight back before going on to win three of the next four games en route a very impressive victory.
“It’s always good to have some lucky place on the Tour,” Alexandrova said, after her victory. “Linz especially, I love to play here, I love the city, I love everything, and I’m glad I can make it to the semifinal here again.”
Alexandrova holds a 3-1 head-to-head lead against her next opponent, Ostapenko in their career meetings, and has won the last three matches, but two of those wins were via retirement.
Ostapenko has been well below her best for most of the season, but she has played well in this week in Linz, and can be hard to stop when she gets into her groove- something she hasn’t done for the best part of a year and a half.
Alexandrova remains the safer pick. She has had a far better season, has a winning record against Ostapenko, and clearly enjoys playing in Linz, where she’s looking to reach back-to-back finals.
Jelena Ostapenko vs Ekaterina Alexandrova is live from Linz on Saturday, 12 October from 3:30pm local time/ 2:30pm BST