By John O’Brien
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Jelena Ostapenko ended her maiden WTA Finals campaign on a winning note with a surprisingly easy 6-3 6-1 victory over a subdued Karolina Pliskova on Thursday, the Latvian saving her best until last after she was eliminated earlier in the week.
World number three Pliskova won her opening two White Group ties against Venus Williams and Garbine Muguruza to book a semi-final berth with a match to spare but the Czech was out-gunned by an inspired Ostapenko at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Ostapenko had battled hard in her opening matches to no avail, especially in a grueling three-set loss to Williams, but she served brilliantly against Pliskova and found the corners with her booming forehand to end her season with a win.
“Yes, I lost my earlier two matches but it’s my first time here and I am just happy to finish my season here, in the top eight, especially with a win at the end,” Ostapenko said in a courtside interview.
Spanish world number two Muguruza and American veteran Williams will meet later on Thursday, with the winner of that contest advancing to the semi-finals along with Pliskova.
The 20-year-old Ostapenko rode her high-risk strategy to a stunning French Open triumph in June and after pushing her luck a little too much in her opening defeats, the Latvian was back to her best as she stormed to victory in 66 minutes.
The pair traded a couple of early breaks in a slow start to the match before Ostapenko put her foot on the accelerator and raced away when she took a pivotal seventh game by forcing Pliskova into a forehand error on her fifth break point.
Another break handed the Latvian the opening set in 43 minutes as the big-serving Pliskova continued to struggle with her most potent weapon in the second and a double-fault handed Ostapenko an early break for a 2-0 lead.
The Czech finally held to halt Ostapenko’s run of games at seven to make it 3-1 in the second, but the Latvian maintained her high standard of play to stay ahead of a flat-footed Pliskova, and another break took her to the brink of victory.
Pliskova looked as if she already had her mind on Saturday’s semi-finals and stood rooted to the spot as an Ostapenko ace brought up three match points and the Latvian only needed one of them when her opponent sent a forehand wide.
“She’s a great player who has had a great season but I had nothing to lose so just went for it,” Ostapenko added. “It’s been an amazing year for me, winning the French (Open) and reaching the WTA Finals, so I am really happy with how it went.”
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)