Jelena Ostapenko celebrated her 20th birthday today by reaching the final of the French Open!
Ranked 47 in the world, she is the first unseeded player to reach the final when Mima Jausovec was then playing for Yugoslavia 34 years ago.
For tennis aficionados: Mima reaching the final in 1983 was not a complete shock: she won the title in 1977!
Ostapenko is from Latvia. Both Jelana and Mima hail from countries once led by communist governments. (Mima is now head coach of the Slovenian national female tennis team.)
Given a general feeling I have that the world has moved into a more precarious place since the last presidential election in the United States, I consider Ostapenko’s win today a victory for democracy!
One of three Baltic states, Latvia was long under Russian rule and Soviet occupation. It regained independence not that long ago in 1991. Many people in the Baltics are a bit uneasy about current relations with Russia.
I’m sorry to write that there may be (quite) a few citizens of the United States who know very little about Latvia. Ostapenko’s astonishing run at the French Open this year, though, may prompt more Googling about Latvia’s location and history.
Athletes have long shown that sports can transcend politics and bring us closer together. Happy Birthday, Jelena! Good luck in the final and thank you for showing great courage on a world stage!