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Jelena Ostapenko storms back to stun Simona Halep for improbable French Open title

(Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

As far as first tournament wins, Jelena Ostapenko probably will take it.

Ostapenko, who never so much had won a single WTA event, stunned the tennis world Saturday with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 3 seed Simona Halep in the French Open final, coming out of obscurity to become the first Latvian to win a Grand Slam event and the first unseeded player to win the Roland Garros title in the open era.

“I still can’t believe I won,” the 20-year-old told the crowd at Court Philippe Chatrier. “It was always my dream, when I was a child I was watching players here. I’m just so happy. I’ve just enjoyed it so much. I have no words.”

The last woman to win her first title at a major was Barbara Jordan at the 1979 Australian Open. The last time anyone won their first-ever tournament title at the French Open was June 8, 1997, when Gustavo Kuerten won the men’s championship. It also happened to be the day Ostapenko was born.

But it was far from easy for the unseeded 20-year-old, even with the Roland Garros crowd firmly on her side. In fact, Ostapenko became first woman to win a Grand Slam after losing the first set since Jennifer Capriati’s win over Monica Seles at the 2001 Australian Open.

It was the third time in her last four matches that Ostapenko dropped the first set. Already down a set Saturday, the 47th-ranked Ostapenko was down 3-0 in the second. She stormed back and stayed alive. Then she was down 3-1 in the deciding third set. Ostapenko didn’t lose a game after that.

Halep played up to her image as a “defensive aggressor” in the first set, letting the 20-year-old Latvian play her high-risk, high-reward game. Overall, Ostapenko finished with 54 winners and 54 unforced errors.

Halep then stormed out to a 3-0 lead in the second set, and things looked bleak for the Ostapenko. But she rallied to win six of the next seven games and force a third set.

With the win, Ostapenko will move up 35 spots to No. 12 in the WTA rankings. Halep, who also lost in the 2014 French Open final and still has yet to win a Grand Slam, will move from No. 4 to No. 2.