By Ros Satar, in Stuttgart

  • Ostapenko and Muguruza talk French Open defence pressure and cars
STUTTGART, GERMANY – The most recent Roland Garros champions spent some time with the press ahead of starting their Porsche Tennis Grand Prix campaigns

 

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Just a year ago, we watched the burden of defending a maiden Slam take its toll on 2017 Roland Garros champion Garbiñe Muguruza. What started as general curiosity at the start of the European clay court swing on the slick indoor clay of Stuttgart ratcheted up (understandably) in Madrid before a crescendo of frenzy by the time for more claggy clay of Rome and of course Paris rolled around.

Step forward the free hitting Jelena Ostapenko who upset the odds and halted the overwhelming favourite in the last year’s final Simona Halep and the approaches are very different.

While Muguruza had been a steady fixture in the Top 10 since somehow conquering grass in 2015 to reach the Wimbledon final, her win in 2017 in Paris seemed to be a double-edged sword for the next 12 months.

Jelena Ostapenko at her pre-tournament press conference at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, WTA Stuttgart 2018

Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia talks to the media at the 2018 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

For Ostapenko, the catapult into the upper reaches of the rankings has come with its challenges as she adjusts to life being the hunted, as opposed to the hunter.

She told press, before she starts her campaign: “Of course there will be more pressure but already this year I started as a Top 10 and there was more pressure but I’m kind of getting used to it and I think I’m doing better now since Miami final and also playing some good matches at the Fed Cup. I’m just looking forward to coming back to Paris. It will be a nice tournament for me.

“Almost every match you go on court you are as a favourite and everybody is looking to you and everybody expects you to win and other girls are playing much better against you because they almost have nothing to lose. You just have to play every match on the same level which is not easy.”

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Compare and contrast the situation for Muguruza, which culminated in a hard press conference to watch after her campaign ended last year in the fourth round. At least now though she can laugh about it.

“Well, yes for sure people don’t have as much of questions for me as last year (laughs). You know clay court is a surface that since I was a little kid I was always playing on it, it’s like my mother surface; I don’t know if it makes sense. I like it. I hope I’m going to have a good season on clay.”

Of course one of the biggest draws for this tournament in terms of its star power is the number of stars of the current Top 10 here (eight) all vying for that one shiny car in the corner. Which of course then begs the question – are your driving skills like your playing skills?

Ostapenko: “I have been driving for almost three years already. Since I turned eighteen I went straight away and passed the exam. And I really like to drive.

“After I’m at the tournaments I come back home and just go crazy sometimes because I’m an extreme person, I like extreme things (laughs). But I mean I don’t go over the speed limit because I know that it can finish in a bad way.”

Muguruza has her shopping order in from her family: “I love cars because my family loves cars. My father loves cars, my two brothers, too. I don’t know, as soon as I could get the licence I got it. I like to drive fast, not drive fast in general but very from light to light (laughs). So, they say I’m a little bit of an aggressive driver. But I like cars and I like to see the little car next to the court. It’s funny.

“You know, each time I come here they are like ‘you’ve got to win this tournament because we want a car.’ (laughs). So, that is the tournament they really care the most. I swear. They are so pumped up when I go to Stuttgart ‘oh, I saw the car this year. Are you motivated?’ I’m like ‘yes, I am.’”

So what is their reaction to her Slam wins?

“(Laughs). ‘Okay, [but] there is no car here.’”

Both Ostapenko and Muguruza are likely to start their campaigns on Thursday.

 

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