It has been 16 years since Jennifer Capriati lost the first set of the French Open final and won. Until Saturday in Paris, no one had come back from that deficit to capture the crown. Meet Jelena Ostapenko, a 20-year-old player who had yet to win a WTA level tournament of any kind until her Roland Garros triumph. It's a measure of the 5-foot-10 Latvian's immense talent. She earned her trophy with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over second-time Roland Garros finalist Simona Halep. Here are the takeaways from the match:
Ostapenko's fearlessness ruled the day
Many parts of Ostapenko's game malfunctioned at various times in this match, which is usually a kiss of death against the consistent, speedy, error-free Halep. But Ostapenko pursued her aggressive game plan even when she was in a deep hole, down a set and facing two break points to go down 4-0 in the second set. That fearless attitude exists independent of any other physical, mental or technical dimension in a player, and the new champion is one of the rare few who has it. "Of course I was nervous," Ostapenko told NBC's Mary Carillo afterward. "But I just wanted to stay aggressive and enjoy the match."
Survival by serve
Ostapenko did not have a great day at the service notch, but her serve is already a lethal weapon. It periodically got her out of deep trouble. That was never more evident than when Ostapenko served while trailing 3-2 in the second set, and found herself down two more break points. Ostapenko then hit two serves that looked like they came from a nail gun rather than a racket, drawing an error on one and a poor return that she put away with a backhand on the other. Ostapenko's service motion is a little awkward, but the kinks will probably get smoothed out as she matures.
Halep hasn't dispelled the demon of negativity
People love Halep. The 25-year-old seems to be everyone's favorite underdog, partly because she is neither big (her height in the media guide is a very optimistic 5-foot-6) nor powerful. Yet as well as she competes week in, week out, there is still a very strong streak of negativity in Halep's makeup. She knows it; she has admitted it, and she has fought it. Her negativity, kept in check through most of the match, came back to haunt her in the late stages of the third set after she failed to hold a 3-1 lead. It was a stark contrast to Ostapenko's relentless enthusiasm.
Ostapenko's greater reach, height, and overall strength (which will only increase with time) were enormous assets in this match. Look no further than her 54 winners. You have to credit Halep for being able to remain competitive for so long, desperately running down, lunging, returning balls hit at warp speed. Ostapenko is built on the same basic platform as last year's champion, Garbine Muguruza. We'll see if the Latvian can handle her success any better.
Good offense beats good defense
Halep made fewer unforced errors in the final (10) than any of her previous matches, and hit a mere eight winners. She tracked one blazing Ostapenko groundstroke after another, running for her competitive life. But it took its toll over the course of the two-hour match, and fatigue took the edge off her game and contributed to her fast fade at the end of the third. Ostapenko made more unforced errors (54) than in any previous match, but she hit the same number of winners. That means that Ostapenko decided a remarkable 108 of the 196 points in the match. She controlled the match all the way.