In a Montreal battle between two big names searching for some form, 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko takes on two-time Grand Slam semifinalist Johanna Konta for a place in the second round. By her lofty standards, Ostapenko has had an indifferent season and is yet to claim a title. Konta, meanwhile, has seen her dismal form from the second half of 2017 continue into this year although there have been some promising signs of late. Who will come out on top?
Ostapenko and Konta have met twice so far in their careers, including once earlier this season. Their first match came last year in Eastbourne on the grass courts at Devonshire Park in the second round. Konta battled to victory in that one, defeating the Latvian 7-5 3-6 6-4 and went on to reach the semifinals. But when their rivalry was renewed at the Italian Open in May this year, it was Ostapenko who claimed victory, recovering from a set down to win 2-6 6-3 6-4.
Last time out
Ostapenko’s French Open title defence ended in a humbling 5-7 3-6 first round defeat at the hands of Kateryna Kozlova. That made her the first women’s defending champion to lose in the first round since Anastasia Myskina in 2005 and only the second ever. But she rebounded impressively during the grass court season, reaching the quarterfinals in Eastbourne before making a run to the Wimbledon semifinals (lost to Kerber).
Konta’s poor form arguably reached its nadir with her 3-6 4-6 loss to Dominika Cibulkova in the second round at Wimbledon. Having been defending semifinal points, she plummeted down the rankings, finding herself outside the top 40 at the tournament’s conclusion. She then began her hard court campaign in San Jose, defeating a struggling Serena Williams 6-1 6-0 and Sofia Kenin to reach the quarterfinals. But there, Elise Mertens had too much winning 7-6 6-3.
How do they match up?
There are few players that boast more formidable baseline arsenals than Jelena Ostapenko. The Latvian hits such a big ball that at Wimbledon in 2017 her average forehand speed clocked in faster than then-defending champion Andy Murray’s. Her backhand is not quite as devastating, but if given time on it, Ostapenko can do plenty of damage. But, unforced errors can be a real problem for Ostapenko, with totals of above 50 not unknown for her.
Central to Konta’s success is her serve. When it is firing, it is one of the best in the game and gives her the platform to dictate to opponents. But when Konta struggles to find her first serve that struggle tends to bleed into the rest of her game. That is in part because whilst she strikes both her forehand and backhand well when moving forward to the ball, she struggles to defend well enough throughout a match to grind out wins when unable to win free points with her serve.
Ostapenko may have fallen out of the game’s elite ten after her early loss at the French Open, but her performances at Wimbledon suggest she won’t be on the outside looking in for long. Her power makes her almost unplayable when she is at her best, and it will be the last thing that Konta will want to face, especially on a fast hard court. Konta’s reasonably good form should allow her to challenge the Latvian, but expect Ostapenko ultimately to have too much and get the win in three.