Who is Jeļena Ostapenko?

Take note – story published 7 years ago

On June 10 Jeļena Ostapenko makes history when she becomes the first Latvian ever to play in a grand slam tennis final, against Romania's Simona Halep. And while her fellow Latvians have heard her name (we at LSM even tipped her for a possible Olympic medal last year and they said we were crazy!) to the rest of the world the unseeded 20-year-old is still an unknown quantity. So who is Jeļena? 

For a start, she's also Aļona! Though Jelena is the more familiar version of her name which appears on the WTA rankings (she is currently in 47th, though that is expected to rise to at least 18th whatever happens on Saturday) she uses the variant Aļona in her daily life. However Aļona doesn't appear on the official list of approved Latvian names, whereas Jeļena does, so there was some potential confusion with paperwork if she stuck with Aļona - so we'll stick with Jelena too, just to avoid confusion.

Jelena is of Russian descent, like around one quarter of Latvia's population.

Speaking to LTV7, her father Jevgenijs - himself a former soccer player with Ukrainian club Metallurg Zaporozhe - said he was not surprised by her success in Paris.

"We always believed it would happen and even thought it might happen sooner," he told LTV7 in an exclusive interview.

Before taking to tennis, his daughter already showed great physical ability as a top-class ballroom dancer, a discipline she began learnign at the age of three. Eventually however, tennis won out - not least because her mother Jelena Jakovleva was (and still is) a tennis coach. 

Funding Jelena's sporting development was not always easy, Jevgenijs admitted: "We had to find a few different sources of revenue - via the internet, doing a few different jobs, using our savings. But we found enough money - luckily two generous benefactors appeared who gave us money and asked for anonymity." 

Motivation was never a problem as far as Jelena was concerned, her father said - she realised early on that talent alone would lead nowhere without hard work.

With his daughter now having earned well in excess of one million dollars already in her short career and with the promise of another massive payday on Saturday, that investment is looking like money well spent - in addition of course to the parental and national pride of such a remarkable achievement.

And Jelena has already been the pride of Latvia once before: in 2015 she won both her her singles and doubles matches representing her country in a Fed Cup playoff against Austria, to save Latvia from relegation from Europe/Africa Zone Group I.

Yet curiously, according to the web page of the Latvian Tennis Federation, Jelena isn't even the top-ranked woman player in Latvia - that position is currently held by Anastasija Sevastova from Liepaja who made it into the last 32 at this year's French Open and is ranked 19 in the world. In another great sporting story, Anastasija retired from the game in 2013 with serious back problems - only to return better than ever two years later saying that retirement had been too depressing.

The Women's Singles French Open Championship final will be broadcast live on LSM and on LTV7 (not available in all territories) starting from 16:00 Latvian time. And if you happen to be in Riga yuo can watch it on a giant screen erected next to the iconic Freedom Monument. It could be quite a party!

"Lots of people in Latvia have called to congratulate me," Jelena said after her semi-final win, "The President called my mother, as he doesn't have my number!"

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