1. OSTAPENKO, OSTAPENKO, OSTAPENKO
Undoubtedly the biggest story of the tournament was the championship win of Jelena Ostapenko. Much was made of Simona Halep’s comment in Rome that the winner could be any one of 15 players, but few pundits picked Ostapenko as one of them. The 20 year-old came through a tough draw, beating the likes of Monica Puig, Sam Stosur, Caroline Wozniacki and Timea Bacsinszky en route to the final against Halep.
In the final, as she did throughout the tournament, the Latvian played lights out tennis and allowed Halep to control barely any of the points, hitting 54 winners past the woman who’s renowned as the best clay court mover in the game. While this style of play also came with 54 unforced errors, it was too much for Halep to handle, and despite being 6-4 3-0 up with triple break point, the Romanian couldn’t wrestle control of the points away from Ostapenko and ended up fading badly.
Much will be said about the potential of Ostapenko in the future, and it’s clear to everyone that she could win many, many Grand Slams with the huge game she has. On the other hand, there’s the issue that if her game is a little off, the winners to unforced errors ratio could swing the wrong way. Looking back to the Charleston final, where she was comprehensively beaten by Daria Kasatkina, you can see that there are ways for opponents to frustrate her into playing bad shots if they get their gameplan right.
It remains to be seen how Ostapenko will cope with the new pressures of being one of the biggest names in the game, but she has every chance to continue her run of form on the grass, which technically should suit her game even more than the clay.
2. Anabel Medina Garrigues – Coach of the Year?
Earlier in the season, Ostapenko, who has been coached by her mother for all of her career, linked up with former WTA player Anabel Medina Garrigues, a two-time Roland Garros women’s doubles champion with 11 singles and 28 doubles titles to her name. This choice seemed a bit out of leftfield – while she was prolific in terms of picking up titles on the tour, Medina Garrigues was never a big name and didn’t ever get past the last 16 of a Grand Slam in singles.
Their partnership, which began around the same time as this year’s clay court season, seemed to be going pretty well, with Ostapenko, winning a few matches in Stuttgart and Prague, but it really ignited in Paris. From an objective observer’s point of view, the biggest impact Medina Garrigues has had on Ostapenko is in the Latvian’s on-court demeanour. As a teenager, she had developed a reputation as a spoiled brat on the court (the most famous incident being an outburst against Naomi Broady in Auckland in 2016) and was hugely unpopular with many of her fellow players.
In Paris, there was a noticeable change to Ostapenko. There were still some outbursts, but they were not rude, and were often targeted at herself rather than her opponents or others around her. Reining in this behaviour seems to have had a positive impact on Ostapenko’s game, making her more focussed and less likely to drop out of a game if she hits a couple of errant shots.
For the achievement of winning Roland Garros alone, Medina Garrigues would be my pick for coach of the year. If Ostapenko can continue her run of form and be a contender for major tournaments for the remainder of the season, the Spaniard is a shoo-in.
3. Simona Halep – the one that got away?
2017 has already been a giant rollercoaster for Simona Halep. She had a dreadful hardcourt season, barely being able to string two wins together until a decent run in Miami, and her coaching relationship with Darren Cahill almost had its day. But as soon as the clay court season began, which for Halep was the ugly Fed Cup victory over Great Britain in her hometown of Constanta, her fortunes completely reversed. Another title in Madrid, a final in Rome and semi final in Stuttgart made her many people’s favourite going into Roland Garros, despite the ankle injury she sustained in the Rome final threatening her participation.
She breezed through the first four rounds and staged an incredible comeback from 3-6 1-5 down to Elina Svitolina before edging Karolina Pliskova to make her second Roland Garros final. As stated above, she had her chances and will rue not being able to close out the match in the second set. When she played her first final in 2014, Halep was the underdog against the much more experienced Maria Sharapova, but it certainly seemed like she felt the pressure of being the big name in this final.
The biggest test for Halep will be putting this disappointment behind her and trying to find her form on the grass and hard courts. She’s up to number one in the Race to Singapore, has a shot at taking the world number one ranking from Angelique Kerber by the end of the grass court season, and has had good enough performances at Wimbledon and the US Open in the past to be a major contender to win either or both of them. But this will depend on her mental toughness, which has been much discussed in the past few months, and will hopefully see her through.
4. Karolina Pliskova – potential future champion?
Much was made throughout the entire clay court season about how Karolina Pliskova is useless on clay, a lot of it coming from Pliskova herself. However, a run to the semi finals, where she gave Halep a run for her money, proved that this isn’t the case. In fact, her solid form showed that she has a decent chance to do even better here in future – a future champion perhaps.
5. Kristina Mladenovic – the DRAMA
Kristina Mladenovic came in to this year’s tournament as the best French prospect for the title since Amelie Mauresmo, following runs to the finals in Stuttgart and Madrid. By the end, the Frenchwoman must have been exhausted. She was pushed to the limit against Americans Jennifer Brady and Shelby Rogers in the first and third rounds, with the atmosphere at fever pitch on both occasions. This was followed by a controversial win over defending champion Garbiñe Muguruza. Played on Suzanne Lenglen instead of Philippe Chatrier at Mladenovic’s request, she beat the Spaniard in three sets with Muguruza upset about the partisanship of the crowd. Mladenovic subsequently lost in the quarter finals with a flat performance against Timea Bacsinszky. She certainly has the game to be a champion in the future but whether she has the temperament remains to be seen.