Straight setters dominated the first two days of this year’s WTA Finals in Singapore – in fact, all four matches saw the player that lost win no more than four games in a set. This all changed on Tuesday and then some with the first match of the day between Venus Williams and Jelena Ostapenko. In an epic encounter lasting three hours and 13 minutes, nearly an hour longer than Monday’s matches combined, Venus prevailed, 7-5 6-7(3) 7-5.
I started watching the match during my lunch break – I was sad when I had to stop with Ostapenko leading *4-3 in the first set because it was an enjoyable start. Thanks to WTA TV On Demand, I was able to catch up this evening. Ostapenko was inconsistent through the first set with flashes of pure brilliance – she had success drilling the ball down the middle to open up angles went hugeee on the return. Ostapenko served for the first set at *5-4 where she was broken to love. Williams landed some deep returns in court but ultimately, it was four errors from Ostapenko.
Williams would reel off four straight games to take the opener with gritty defence and her experience, much like their Wimbledon clash, coming to the fore as Ostapenko’s firs serve rather deserted her in a sea of unforced errors. The Latvian player was furious at the end of her set and her coach took a battering.
There wasn’t a great deal of momentum in this match. While Williams kept things pretty steady, Ostapenko pulled the strings, alternating through periods of excellent and erratic play. Williams had the early break in the second set. Ostapenko pegged the American straight back with a fling of forehand winners. Williams levelled up again and then stayed ahead on serve, managing to hit some decent serves in the pressure moments.
Credit to Ostapenko who also managed to hold her nerve in the key moments. Serving at *4-5, Ostapenko was forced to save a match point to keep the contest alive. She landed a second serve and kept her groundstrokes in court with Williams going into the net.
Ostapenko held serve to 5-5 and then broke, thanks to another dishy return winner. Just like the first set, Ostapenko was not able to serve it out. This time, it was more about Williams who stepped it up in a superb return game with bundles of intensity. Into a second set tiebreak and after a close start, somewhat surprisingly, it was Williams who fell away with a double fault and errors off the backhand wing.
In the first deciding set of the tournament so far, Ostapenko recovered a *0-40 deficit and saved five break points to hold her first service game. Williams responded emphatically with a hold to love. Ostapenko was barely at 50% first serves in through the first two sets and her serve disintegrated in the third set with her first serve dropping to 39% and double faults raining down.
From 1-1, Ostapenko lost her serve on three consecutive occasions. However, her return game remained lethal and each time, she levelled up the score with moments of absolute magic. A brilliant backhand down-the-line helped Ostapenko to break back to 4-4 in the decider. It was a pretty tense decider and both were clearly feeling it – I haven’t seen that emotion from Williams in a long time after she failed to consolidate the breaks of serve, while Ostapenko became increasingly frustrated and close to tears with her serving woes.
The third set was a little scrappy but still a must-watch which ended with a pair of dramatic and gripping Ostapenko service games. Ostapenko somehow recovered a *0-40 hole at *4-4 when her serve magically clicked for a few points to bag a lucrative hold, also thanks to some errors from Williams. As touched on earlier, the way that Williams reacts after missed opportunities is inspired – serving to stay in the match, Williams held to 15.
Another long game on Ostapenko’s serve at *5-5 panned out as she threw the kitchen sink to stay afloat. An outrageously audacious backhand winner down-the-line helped her save a break point. It wasn’t enough though as Williams threw caution to the wind and went all in, rushing to the net and taking second serves super early with aggressive strikes. The latter was very successful and helped score the break.
Williams served out the match with another hold to 15 in one of her best service games of the entire match. Hats off to that finish by Venus…
Venus Williams – 62% 1st serves in, 61% of 1st serve points won, 33% of 2nd serve points won, 26 winner and 29 unforced errors
Jelena Ostapenko – 46% 1st serves in, 51% of 1st serve points won, 40% of 2nd serve points won, 48 winner and 40 unforced errors
While not the best quality match we’ve seen all year, this was one hell of an entertaining ride. Williams is just so damn impressive and it was experience and maturity that once again prevailed. Williams served well in the majority of key moments, defended valiantly from the baseline, but then had the confidence and assuredness to really go for it at the end of the match and put Ostapenko’s crumbling second serve under pressure.
Ostapenko’s serve was an absolute shocker. Again, it’s something that is surely top of the list on things to work on in the off-season. Still, she showed a lot of heart and was very impressive in how she managed to reset, many times with some outrageous shotmaking in the return games. She was still very close to winning that decider and with 39% (!) of first serves in. If she can shore up that serve then she could be unstoppable.
While happy for Williams, i’m kind of bummed to see Ostapenko officially now out of the tournament. I find her really exciting to watch and I don’t think i’m ever going to get bored of seeing her wallop the ball – her groundstrokes 🔥.
It was a match that went against a few streaks – Williams was 11-1 in tiebreaks this year and this was the first one she had lost since the Australian Open! Furthermore, Ostapenko’s three set record was 21-3 since Charleston heading into this tournament. This was her first three set loss since Toronto.
Jeepers… how short was that andddd after a win?! 😂
Even after a tough loss, Ostapenko seemed able to reflect on the positives of the match.
I spent my entire evening watching Williams-Ostapenko and then GBBO so I haven’t had time to catch up with the second match where Karolina Pliskova sealed her place in the semi-finals with a routine 6-2 6-2 win over Garbiñe Muguruza. This now means that second place in the white group will be decided by a straight shootout between Venus and Garbiñe.
Williams and Muguruza haven’t played since the Wimbledon final – Williams won their three pre-2017 matches, while Muguruza has won both 2017 encounters including a 7-5 6-0 triumph in the third Slam final of the year. The first set was a feast of aggressive tennis with Muguruza saving set points to win the opener before rolling through the second set.
I’d probably give the edge to Muguruza’s relentlessness on this court, even after her one-sided loss to Pliskova. It will be a tough ask for Williams to follow up that thrilling win over Ostapenko but no doubt she will give it some welly.
Please note – my work has a charity bake sale on Thursday so i’m unlikely to have time for a post tomorrow night. I’m going for my tried-and-tested Millionaire’s Shortbread so i’m hoping things will go to plan 🤞🤞🤞 .