Jelena Ostapenko PHOTO:AFP
Jelena Ostapenko says she has nothing to lose and everything to gain when she takes on the returning former world number one Serena Williams in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
The exhibition match will be the highlight of the three-day Mubadala World Tennis Championship as it marks Williams’ return to the court for the first time since winning the Australian Open at the start of the year.
She was two-months pregnant at that time and took off for the birth of her first child in September.
The 20-year-old Ostapenko was not even a thought in her parents’ mind when Williams turned professional in September 1995.
Williams also has more grand slam singles titles – 23 – than the age of her rival Saturday.
And the reigning French Open champion, who shocked the tennis world at Roland Garros by becoming the first player from Latvia to win a grand slam title having started the event as an unseeded player, was looking forward to her battle with her “childhood idol”.
“I am a little excited because I have never played her before,” said Ostapenko, who has been practicing since Thursday in Abu Dhabi.
“I am really honoured to play Serena in her first match after coming back and I think it is such a great opportunity for me.
“She was actually my idol when I was growing up, and I saw her matches and I really liked the style she was playing. I also think she is very big for women’s tennis.
“To play such a great champion is just great. I have nothing to lose and I will just enjoy the match.”
The seventh ranked Ostapenko, who beat the overwhelming favourite Simona Halep in Paris, was also eager to start her new season.
“I have done a lot of work in the pre-season, especially on my serve and on my consistency. I want to become a more consistent player in 2018,” she added.
“Of course, it is not going to be easy for me after such a great season but I have prepared well and I am just going to try to perform my best at the grand slams and try to stay inside the top-10.”