You read it correctly: the age gap between the two women who will begin play on the RLA for the 2018 Australian Open is no less than 17 years.
On one side of the net stands Jelena Ostapenko, born 6/8/1997, currently ranked #7 in the world and #7 seed of the tournament. On the other one, Francesca Schiavone, born 6/23/1980, currently #96, though with a best ranking of #4.
Embed from Getty Images
Though certainly not the biggest age gap in tennis history – in 2014, for instance, Kimiko Date faced 27 years younger Belinda Bencic in the opening round of the Australian Open – and though Jelena Ostapenko has already faced a player as old as Schiavone (Venus Williams) – the fact stands pretty impressive.
Funnily enough, both won a Grand Slam title in Paris. The Italian conquered the title eight years ago, when she ousted Sam Stosur in the final back in 2010. The Latvian shocked the tennis world last year, when unseeded and ranked outside the Top 40 displayed a tremendous attitude in demolishing her opponents, culminating in the comeback against Simona Halep in the final.
The beginning of the year hasn’t exactly been easy for Jelena Ostapenko. Indeed, the youngster faces the pressure of some expectations for the first time, and if winning big tournaments and climbing the ranking is certainly tough, matching the expectations and defending ranking points is tougher. After defeating Serena Williams in an exhibition in Abu Dhabi few days before the end of 2017, she lost both the matches she played in the new year without winning a single set. In Shenzen, Krystina Pliskova outclassed the Latvian, leaving only 5 games. In Sydney, Ostapenko lost in straight sets to Russian Ekaterina Makarova.
Francesca Schiavone, on the other hand, has yet to play a single match in 2018. Funnily enough, given the poor results displayed by her compatriots, she is the #1 Italian in the rankings. Although it is going to last only one week – Camila Giorgi is going to surpass her tomorrow, thanks to the semifinal in Sydney – that stat may certainly be read as a warning for the status of the Italian tennis, rather than a validation for Schiavone’s current shape.
Schiavone’s current shape is indeed a big question mark. Rumors along the grapevine were saying that she would have retired at the end of last season, given her poor results and her difficulty in winning matches at WTA level. Nevertheless, she finished the year ranked inside the Top 100. Moreover, knowing her attitude, one might think that if she is still here competing at Grand Slam, that is because she feels she still has something to give. However, her love for the sport is so high that she might also keep playing just for the sake of it – something thoroughly admirable, a woman who once won a Grand Slam and was ranked inside the Top 10 keeps playing despite multiple losses just because she genuinely love what the sport.
Despite her unpromising start of the year, Ostapenko seems the absolute favorite in this opening match. It’s going to be massively tough for the Italian to contrast the power of the Latvian’s shots, and to fight and win games. The first games of the match are going to be crucial. Indeed, if the Italian manages to win the first few games hence starting the match in a slightly offensive way, Ostapenko may become pretty nervous, gifting unforced errors, and a fought match might be possible. Otherwise, Ostapenko shouldn’t have a very tough one. Let’s just hope the RLA will begin the play with an entertaining match between two great players. As for now, let the party start!
Embed from Getty Images