“The bottom line on grass is coming forward,” Renae Stubbs said, sitting in the ESPN booth.
Tell that to Jelena Ostapenko.
The 21-year-old Latvian and twelfth seed stayed away from the net as if it were poison Monday, but she conquered Aliaksandra Sasnovich, 7-6(4), 6-0, in one of the first matches to finish on what is called “Manic Monday” at Wimbledon, the day set aside for all 16 fourth-round matches.
The lopsided scoreline could have been triggered by a linesperson who snitched on Ostapenko and told the chair umpire that her coach, Glen Schaap, was schooling his pupil from the stands. The score was 5-2 in favor of Sasnovich at the time.
“He didn’t tell me anything,” Ostapenko said to the chair umpire. “You are not allowed to ding me, when he says ‘let’s go.’”
The bemused Latvian used the incident to fuel her recognized game — pure power — running off three games and going on to win the set’s tiebreaker. The steadier manner from Sasnovich, which had lassoed the lead, evaporated in the face of Ostapenko’s domination.
“Her personality is such that she’ll keep driving the ball,” the ESPN commentator said. “I guess that’s just her. I guess she’s not fast enough to defend.”
That comment rings true. Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, is not known for sleight-of-hand tennis. She is not fleet of foot, either, and her net game needs polishing.
“Much too much of a swing,” ESPN said, as Ostapenko missed a sitting forehand volley. “Just punch it to the open court. She tried to manipulate it.”
Her other weakness, her second serve, won her only 25 percent of those points. That’s not good enough going forward.
Sasnovich, though, didn’t and really couldn’t impose her versatility because Ostapenko kept her pinned to the baseline.
“I would try a few more sliced balls and angles,” the commentator suggested. “Not give Ostapenko the ball she wants.”
But in rallies that went by faster than a speeding train, Sasnovich fell further and further behind as her defensive assets were destroyed. Nonetheless she will be remembered as the woman, ranked number 50, who took out two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the opening round.
It is a testament to Ostapenko’s competitive chops that as well as Sasnovich started the match — and for all of Ostapenko’s still-present limitations — she managed to turn things around.
“Once she feels comfortable to strike the ball then she becomes dangerous to anyone out there,” the commentator said about Ostapenko. “At the moment she is in a rich vein of form.”
The two women had met at Wimbledon last year in the first round. Ostapenko won in three, but she struggled against Sasnovich’s well-rounded game. Sasnovich had improved since that loss, too.
Her victory over Kvitova was her second against a top-10 player. In Tokyo, Sasnovich defeated then-sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova in 2016. Sasnovich also helped lead the Belarus Fed Cup team to the final last year, without the help of Victoria Azarenka, the former number one and justifiably more notable countrywoman. In Brisbane, at the beginning of the year, Sasnovich reached the final as a qualifier.
After upsetting Kvitova at Wimbledon last week, Sasnovich hit 29 winners to see off American qualifier Taylor Townsend. Against Daria Gavrilova (No. 25), Sasnovich won nine out of the last 10 games of the match. That win advanced her to her first round of 16 at a Grand Slam.
“Sasnovich can do a bit of everything,” ESPN said. “She’ll mix it up and produce magnificent angles. She has a lovely long-flowing shot [backhand].”
Ostapenko’s come-from-behind win will fill her with confidence for a quarterfinal battle with Dominika Cibulkova. The Slovakian was supposed to have been seeded 32 when the draw was issued. However, the Wimbledon seeding committee nudged her out when it awarded Serena Williams number 25. Cibulkova was not happy.
“I have the right and I should be seeded,” Cibulkova told the press in Eastbourne, as tennis.com reported. Later, she said, “My opinion about it is that I don’t think it’s fair and I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. It’s just because she won it many times and she’s Serena Williams. So I think that’s why.”
Like Ostapenko Monday, when she stepped on the gas after the coaching violation, Cibulkova has used her disappointment to inspire her run at Wimbledon. In her Manic Monday match, she defeated Su-Wei Hsieh, 6-4, 6-1, in a speedy encounter that lasted a bit over 75 minutes. The Taipei native orchestrated what some are calling the upset of the tournament on Saturday, taking out Roland Garros champion and top seed Simona Halep.
Cibulkova’s game comes in a close second when compared to Ostapenko’s baseline bashing. When footspeed is compared, though, Cibulkova trumps Ostapenko, who was the junior girls’ winner in 2014. This is only her third main-draw appearance at Wimbledon, but that doesn’t matter for a woman who own two titles, her first being The French Open.
One player has the better game, the other the better footspeed. The clash of styles is set for Tuesday.
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