WATCH: Ostapenko rallied from a set down to blitz through the final set against Halep, a two-time champion in Dubai.

“Every round I play a Grand Slam champion!” a hoarse Jelena Ostapenko exclaimed on-court after rallying from a set down to defeat Simona Halep and reach the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships final, 2-6, 7-6 (0), 6-0.

Often prone to exaggeration, Ostapenko wasn’t kidding this time: the big-hitting Latvian strung together one of the best runs in recent memory and endured quality opposition from her first match against 2020 Australian Open victor Sofia Kenin. She subsequently battled through third-set tiebreakers with 2020 French Open conqueror Iga Swiatek and two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova just to book a semifinal clash with Halep, another two-time major champ and the very opponent Ostapenko beat to win her lone major at Roland Garros in 2017.

Already in fine form after a close three-setter with Barbora Krejcikova in Melbourne and a semifinal run at last week’s St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy, Ostapenko has found herself lifted by the occasion each time but saved her best tennis for her Romanian rival, whom she hadn’t played in over four years.

Halep has endured her own struggles of late, missing much of last season due to various injuries and ending her 373-week streak inside the Top 10. Finishing the year raned No. 23, the former No. 1 is back on an upswing in 2022 after a title run in Melbourne and a solid run this week where she didn’t drop a set in three matches—including against world No. 10 Ons Jabeur.

Kicking things off against Ostapenko, she eased through the opening set and roared back from 0-3 down to even the second set at four games apiece.

Unseeded but assured of returning to the WTA’s Top 20 for the first time since 2018, Ostapenko shook off missing a pair of set points late in the second set to play a perfect tiebreaker, blitzing Halep’s puffball serves to level the match and send the “SI-MO-NA!”-friendly crowd into a tailspin.


It's not the easiest draw and every match is really tough, so I come into every one ready for the fight and for a battle. Jelena Ostapenko

The 24-year-old kept up that momentum throughout the decider, emboldened by her vastly improved first serve to go for one audacious winner after another. By the end of the match, she’d made 36 in total in spite of 49 errors—most of the latter came in the more uneven first set.

"When things didn't go my way, I never gave up and kept fighting," said Ostapenko, who is also still alive in doubles alongside Lyudmyla Kichenok.

Even when she fell to a ranking low of No. 83 in 2019, Ostapenko was capable of this kind of match; that she has been able to maintain this level for weeks at a time—and against experienced opponents—is what suddenly elevates her into one of the tour’s most dangerous players.

At a time when much of the Top 10 is struggling with belief or adjusting to expectations, Ostapenko comes to court encumbered by no such doubts, having long believed she was the best in the world.

A combination of inconsistency and instability has long kept her from making good on that claim, to the point where, even as she quietly resumed her rise in the rankings last summer, few noticed. Her Eastbourne title run was overshadowed by a dramatic Wimbledon defeat against Ajla Tomljanovic. A run to the BNP Paribas Open semifinals was ultimately stunted by Victoria Azarenka, who gamely retrieved Ostapenko’s court-defying angles to knock her out in three sets. These encouraging signs were shrugged off as Typical Ostapenko and not, as it now appears to be, Ostapenko 2.0.

The new and improved former Slam champion next plays Veronika Kudermetova in the final after 2019 Roland Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrousova gave a walkover in the second semifinal. Kudermetova is, in her own way, known for flashes of brilliance, reaching the Abu Dhabi final and winning the Charleston title in 2021 but was largely absent elsewhere—rarely beating players ranked above her.

Kudermetova began chipping away at that 3-18 record dating back to last season with upsets over Azarenka and defending champion Garbiñe Mugurza, and backed up those victories with a three-setter over 2021 semifinalist Jil Teichmann.

After slicing through a murder’s row of major champions, can Ostapenko 2.0 hold steady and win her fifth career title? The Latvian has played her best when preparing for a battle, and even without a marquee name across the net, enough is on the line to think she is ready to lay down her best case yet for a return to the Grand Slam shortlist.