Jelena Ostapenko's deeply honest confession about lone match versus Serena Williams

Ostapenko lost to Williams in tight two sets during their lone meeting at the Billie Jean King Cup in 2020.

by Dzevad Mesic
Jelena Ostapenko's deeply honest confession about lone match versus Serena Williams
© Getty Images Sport - Abbie Parr

Jelena Ostapenko suggests being the one that imposes their style on the opponent and playing fearless is the key to success as the Latvian says she has learned her lesson after suffering a mental block during her lone match against "idol" Serena Williams.

Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, is off to a great start to the 2024 season as she has already won two titles in Adelaide and Linz and overall owns a 15-3 record in 2024. Following a strong start to the season and lifting the Linz title in early February, 26-year-old Ostapenko returned to the top-10 for the first time in five years. 
Ostapenko, now ranked at No. 9 in the world, has interestingly won all matches played this year in which Victoria Azarenka wasn't her opponent - she lost to the former world No. 1 at the Brisbane International, Australian Open and Doha. However, it has still been an outstanding start to the year for 26-year-old Latvian, whose game at the start of 2024 reminds of the one that landed her first Grand Slam title at a very young age seven years ago.

"I feel like I was winning matches, especially in 2017, by putting a lot of pressure on the opponent, like in the final of the French Open. I was still playing my game. Of course, I can miss some balls. This is normal. I am not a robot. I can miss a few balls there, a few balls here," Ostapenko said on the WTA Insider podcast.

"But the main thing is to put pressure by yourself. There are players, like Sabalenka, she's playing this very well. I think she found the right balance and that works good for her. I feel like our style is a little bit similar, so she's a good example of that."

Jelena Ostapenko
Jelena Ostapenko© Getty Images Sport - Alexander Scheuber

Ostapenko recounts losing to Williams in their lone meeting

In 2020, former world No. 5 Ostapenko met former 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams for the first time in her career during a Billie Jean King Cup tie between the United States and Latvia. While Ostapenko competed extremely well against Williams, she still ended up suffering a tight two-set loss 6-7 (4) 6-7 (3). 

Reflecting on that match now, Ostapenko admits she "respected Williams too much" during those two tie-breaks. Ostapenko may have lost that match but it gave her a clear idea of what she needed to avoid in the future.

"Sometimes when you respect someone too much, it can put pressure on you. In Everett, when we played Fed Cup [in 2020], I was playing against Serena and she was always my idol. I lost to her 6-7, 6-7. I felt like I was playing really well. When it came to the tiebreak, in both sets, in my head I thought, 'Oh my god, I'm playing Serena.' She was always my idol. I felt this didn't help me to win," Ostapenko said.

"She can be my idol, but when I play against her I have to forget these things and I just have to see her as a player."

Jelena Ostapenko
Jelena Ostapenko© Getty Images Sport - Abbie Parr

After meeting Williams in 2020, Ostapenko never again got a chance to play against her idol.

Ostapenko off to a winning start in Dubai

After suffering a 0-6 3-6 loss to Victoria Azarenka in the Doha round-of-16, 2022 Dubai champion Ostapenko kicked off her campaign at this week's WTA 1000 event in Dubai with a 5-7 6-2 6-3 win over world No. 64 Wang Xiyu.

Through the opening three games of the match, as many breaks were seen as Ostapenko led 2-1. After three consecutive breaks in the first three games, not a single break point was seen in the next five games as Ostapenko had a 5-3 lead through the opening eight games. Then, Ostapenko suffered a collapse and lost the next four games as Wang managed to overturn the deficit and steal the first set from the Latvian.

After winning the first set, Wang also led 2-1 through the opening three games of the second set but without breaks. Then, Ostapenko put it in another gear and won the next five games to win the second set in style and force a decider.

Jelena Ostapenko
Jelena Ostapenko© Getty Images Sport - Francois Nel

Early in the third set, Ostapenko missed out on a break point in the first game but also saved a break point in the second game. In the fifth game, Ostapenko had three consecutive break points chances but again didn't convert. 

But Ostapenko was able to keep her focus after blowing a couple of break points early in the third set as the Latvian got a break in the seventh game after realizing her seventh break point of the third set. With Ostapenko 5-3 up and Wang serving to stay in the match, the Latvian broke Wang again to complete her comeback win.

In the Dubai second round, Ostapenko plays against Lulu Sun.

Jelena Ostapenko Serena Williams Billie Jean King Cup