When Ukraine’s Lyudmyla Kichenok teamed up with Latvian Jelena Ostapenko, little did she know that their doubles pairing would be so successful in challenging the best, and claim 2 doubles titles on the WTA Tour, the latest of which was at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati on Saturday, their biggest win so far.
It doesn’t matter what the score is, [the key was] to be aggressive and to put pressure on them. That was a thing they didn’t like, and it helped us in the important moments. Jelena Ostapenko
Ostapenko is fully aware of what is going on in Ukraine as her coach, Stas Khmarsky, is also Ukrainian.
When the invasion by Russia took place and war broke out in Ukraine, both Khmarsky and Kichenok ensured their respective mothers were able to leave the country, but they still have friends and family stuck in the heart of the conflict.
After the French Open, Ostapenko turned 25 and had a birthday party back home in Latvia to which she invited both Khmarsky and Kichenok, who would have found it hard to return to Ukraine.
“They like the city. Riga is nice,” said Ostapenko. “And also because most of the people in Ukraine speak Russian also, and a lot of people in Latvia, like 50 per cent of people, speak Russian.
“So maybe they feel a little bit better than in other cities where nobody really speaks it.”
It is a softer side to Ostapenko that many may not recognise because of her aggressive game on the court and her outspokenness off it.
A delighted Jelena Ostapenko thanks her doubles partner Lyudmyla Kichenok after winning the Cincy final at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio.
© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
On Saturday, the Latvian’s powerful game was on full display as Kichenok & Ostapenko defeated America’s Nicole Melichar-Martinez & Ellen Perez from Australia, 7-6(5) 6-3, in an hour and 24 minutes to capture the WTA 1000 Cincy title.
“It’s my biggest title and I’m very happy,” Kichenok said after the rain-delayed final. “It’s hard to describe, it’s amazing. I just can`’ find the words.
“I’m still a bit shaky after the match, it’s very exciting.”
Kichenok & Ostapenko were 5th on the Race to the Finals Leaderboard coming into Cincinnati, and are projected to rise even further after posting another superb 2022 result.
Along with their Birmingham title, Kichenok & Ostapenko reached additional finals at Dubai and Eastbourne, while they also made the semi-finals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon this season, falling to the eventual champions at both majors.
After finally getting onto the court after multiple rain delays, it was Melichar-Martinez & Perez who initially held the upper hand, breaking Ostapenko in the very first game of the match, and building a 4-2 lead.
Kichenok & Ostapenko, though, got themselves back on serve at 4-4 and, although the American-Aussie team garnered 2 set points at 5-4, the No 7 seed fended them off before a powerful Latvian forehand led to another break for 5-5.
in the tiebreak, another powerful return from Ostapenko gave them a couple of set points of their own, which they converted at the second chance to snatch a one-set lead.
There were no break points through 3-3 in the second, until Kichenok & Ostapenko broke and cruised to the title, winning the final 4 games of the match.
“It doesn’t matter what the score is, [the key was] to be aggressive and to put pressure on them,” Ostapenko said. “That was a thing they didn’t like, and it helped us in the important moments.”
Kichenok is now up to 7 Hologic WTA Tour doubles titles in her career., while Ostapenko, who is also currently inside the Top 20 in singles, has won 6 career WTA doubles titles.
Despite the loss, Melichar-Martinez & Perez have also had a strong summer, reaching back-to-back WTA 1000 finals last week in Toronto and this week in Cincinnati.