LONDON (Reuters) - No longer weighed down by the burden of being reigning French Open champion, Jelena Ostapenko has returned to her free-flowing best at Wimbledon - blasting winners left, right and center.
After her astonishing run at Roland Garros last June when she won the first title of her career, Ostapenko seemed to struggle with the expectations of being a Grand Slam champion.
A month after hoisting the Suzanne Lenglen Cup she reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals, with grass her favorite surface.
However, the young Latvian’s next three slam outings ended with third round defeats at the U.S. and Australian Opens and a first round meltdown in Paris just six weeks ago.
Rather than beating herself up about her Paris nightmare, that defeat has finally allowed the 21-year-old Ostapenko to break free and once again pound the ball the only way she knows how - harder and harder, and faster and faster.
Luckily for her, the shots have also been hitting their target as she is the only player to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals without dropping a set - a feat even seven-times champion Serena Williams has failed to emulate even though the American has not faced a seed to make it into the last four.
“At the French Open a couple of weeks ago I had so much pressure. It’s now all gone. I’m just going out there and enjoying it,” the 12th-seeded Ostapenko said after her 7-5 6-4 win over Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova.
On Tuesday, the Latvian was hitting her targets with ease as she blasted 33 ferocious winners and also belted down five aces, including two on second serves.
“I was just trying to go for the shots when I had to,” said the daughter of an ex-professional footballer.
“I always had this opportunity to hit the ball pretty hard. When I have opportunity in my matches, I’m just going for the winners.”
Ostapenko will next meet another former Grand Slam champion, Germany’s Angelique Kerber, for a place in Saturday’s final.
As she chases a second major, will her past experience help or hinder her against the 11th seed?
“It’s a big advantage that I already have a Grand Slam in my pocket... (now) I have all this motivation to just win another one,” she said.
“(My confidence) is on a high level because I haven’t dropped a set here yet. Yesterday 2-5 down (in the first set against Aliaksandra Sasnovich), today 4-5 down, and I still won the set. From that I gain even more confidence.”
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar; Editing by Ken Ferris