By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko battled her misfiring game and stubborn qualifier Francoise Abanda before securing a 4-6 7-6(4) 6-3 win to reach the Wimbledon third round on Wednesday.
For the second match running the 13th seed’s level fluctuated wildly but she finally made her extra firepower count to see off the Canadian as darkness descended on Court 12.
Fans could have been excused for wondering what all the fuss was about as Ostapenko, who blazed to the Roland Garros title last month, flailed forehands high and wide and into the net in a scrappy first set against her fellow 20-year-old.
The Latvian was three points from defeat in the second set tiebreak but world number 142 Abanda wavered with a nervy double-fault and Ostapenko seized her chance to level the match.
Yet more unforced errors handed Abanda a 2-0 lead in the deciding set but a fired-up Ostapenko won six of the last seven games to move through to a clash with unseeded Italian Camila Giorgi who knocked out big-hitting American Madison Keys.
“I wasn’t very happy with the way I played but I’m happy that I could fight and win,” Ostapenko told reporters.
“From 3-3 in the third set I played how I play normally.”
Ostapenko stunned the tennis world when she beat experienced Romanian Simona Halep in the French Open final with a memorable display of fearless hitting – racking up 54 winners.
It booked her an appointment with the Latvian president Raimonds Vejonis and had former American great Chris Evert proclaiming the birth of the sport’s next star.
Yet there is still a rawness about her game and errors are never far away. On Wednesday her balance sheet was alarmingly in the red throughout a match against a player she had lost to twice when competing on the junior circuit.
She ended the contest with 31 winners and 39 errors – 20 of which flowed off her racket in the opening set.
The willowy Abanda, playing in her first Wimbledon, looked in danger of being knocked off her feet by Ostapenko’s fierce strokes at times, but she weathered the storm and her steady approach paid dividends as Ostapenko self-destructed.
She moved into a 5-2 lead doing little more than making sure she kept the ball in play and although Ostapenko crept back to 5-4 the Latvian sent a backhand wide to lose the opener.
Ostapenko, watched by mother and coach Jelena and Spanish WTA player Annibel Medina Garrigues, who she works with, took a 3-1 lead in the second set, was pegged back to 3-3 before breaking to love to lead 5-4, only to drop serve again.
Abanda, playing some elegant tennis, led 4-3 in the tiebreak but double-faulted. Ostapenko let out a frightening roar when she put a volley away to take it.
Eventually her extra quality shone through and while there are clearly areas that need to improved, namely a second serve that begs to be whacked and a weak net game, she has already proved that on her day she can be almost unplayable.
“People are expecting more from me but I just focus on my game,” she said.
“I’m happy I’m in the third round (for the first time) and it’s important to win when you don’t play your best tennis.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)