The former French Open champion tells i about the charms of Riga, that famous spat with Ajla Tomljanovic and why she used to stay up till 3am doing homework

Jelena Ostapenko is more aware than most tennis players of what is going on in Ukraine. Her coach Stas Khmarsky is Ukrainian, as is her doubles partner Lyudmyla Kichenok. 

When war broke out, 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. 

She invited both Khmarsky and Kichenok, who would have found it hard to return to Ukraine. 

“They like the city. Riga is nice,” adds Ostapenko, who says she thinks they’ll return to her home country after Wimbledon too. 

“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 people who have only watched her on the tennis court might not recognise. 

Her blunt post-match comments about Rebecca Marino, whom she beat in three sets having trailed 6-2 5-1 in Birmingham, went viral. 

“I’m glad I won because my level is way better than hers today and I showed it,” she said, drawing gasps from the crowd. 

At Wimbledon last year she had an on-court spat with Ajla Tomljanovic, who accused her of faking an injury to try and disrupt the Australian’s rhythm. 

The pair met again in Eastbourne last week without quite the same fireworks but it is clear that Ostapenko still believes she was in the right.