Few players have a smile that beams as wide as Jelena Ostapenko’s when she is in the mood and the crowd at the Adelaide International was treated to the Latvian at her most convivial after her 6-3 6-2 win over Daria Kasatkina in the 2024 women’s final.
In the press conference after her semifinal on Friday evening, Ostapenko said she much prefers playing matches to practising, the word practice coming out almost with some serious disdain.
After five wins this week she has every reason to feel vindicated. Kastakina, who made her way into this final partly via the unusual route of player withdrawals in both the quarter and semifinals, looked just off the pace of the Latvian all evening.
“Sometimes it’s just better to get matches and be in the rhythm of matches,” Ostapenko said. “She didn’t play for two days so sometimes when you are in the tournament it’s maybe also a disadvantage. It just depends on every player individually.”
Kasatkina did not play badly but toiled against Ostapenko who was always a step ahead and a break up early in both sets. She is not an easy player to compete against when firing from the baseline on all cylinders, which she most emphatically was.
Her performances this Adelaide International have taken her back into the top 10 rankings for the first time since September 2018 and she is brimming with self-belief and purpose. A beautifully placed sliced backhand down-the-line that gave her a 4-1 lead in the second set underlined the confidence shining through her every movement.
“I honestly was working on this slice and I am working on this slice shot a lot in practice,” she said. “I’m really happy that it helped me and worked in a deciding moment. I think it was a great shot.
“I’m playing aggressive and I feel like I’m playing more consistent and I’m more mature as a player. It’s just the beginning of the year but I will work harder to be back in the top 10 and top five and stay there.”
The inner Ostapenko was never far from the surface however, two absolute belters invariably followed by another one hit long or wide. She is captivating to watch and has worked hard on bringing more aggression to her game but there is a sense that installing more rigour into her game might detract from her brilliance.
She knows she is on form and can do some serious damage at the Australian Open but what impact five wins in a week in Adelaide will have on her remains to be seen. It could, quite seriously, propel her to further glory in Melbourne.
Ostapenko is remaining grounded, however, as she prepares to face Australia’s Kim Birrell in the first round.
“I’m not trying to put any pressure on myself and not play with any expectations, just take one match at a time,” she said. “I still want to enjoy this victory. It’s going to be short, but I want to enjoy it a few days and when I get to Melbourne, I will be ready for the tournament.”
This is Ostapenko’s seventh tour title (Kasatkina was going for the same number too).
The on-court presentation ceremony was intriguing with Kasatkina, by some distance, the most gracious player this tournament has seen in defeat this week. She thanked almost every single person in the stadium by name and complimenting new tournament director Alicia Molik not just for a highly successful week, but for her choice of colourful outfits every day.
It was a warm welcome in Adelaide also, “perhaps too warm at times” she said in reference to the temperatures in the high 30s all week.
They will both be back, said Ostapenko and Kasatkina. And South Australia will be all the better for it.