French Open winner perfect to take over as Sharapova again slips off the radar with her muscle tear from Rome.
The Aegon Classic in Birmingham lost its star attraction last weekend, when Maria Sharapova announced her thigh injury has still not healed. But there is a silver lining: the new French Open champion, Jelena Ostapenko, is available instead.
In a statement on her Facebook page, Sharapova said that "the muscle tear that I sustained in Rome will unfortunately not allow me to compete in the grass court tournaments I was scheduled to play".
She will miss not only Birmingham but also the Wimbledon qualifying event at Roehampton. And her absence will create yet another wild-card dilemma, this time for the US Open, whose organisers will have to decide whether to invite her directly into the main draw.
In the meantime, Ostapenko promises to make a more than adequate replacement. Ranked No47 when the entry list was compiled -- as opposed to No12 when the new set of rankings were released on Monday -- she was only one place from earning direct entry in any case.
Tennis lovers might still be adapting to Ostapenko's dramatic rise, yet her eyeballs-out hitting in last weekend's French Open final -- where she beat Simona Halep by a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 margin -- made her one of the most popular champions at Roland Garros in decades.
And as the British grass-court season nears, it's worth noting her flat, venomous groundstrokes -- particularly the forehand that she hit at a ferocious average speed of 122km/h in Paris -- should be even more lethal on a faster surface.
"If she keeps doing what she is doing and keeps the same focus, she can be very dangerous," Ostapenko's coach, Anabel Medina Garrigues, said shortly after her triumph. "On grass it is difficult to move, and she can be very dangerous with her shots. She won Wimbledon juniors and when I talked to her during that tournament she was saying, 'I love to play on grass, it's my favourite surface.' She will believe in herself that she can play well there."
Belief is hardly in short supply for the 20-year-old Latvian. Last weekend, Ostapenko seemed unfazed by the fact that she had just become the most left-field winner of a grand slam since the late 1970s, when the Australian Open was largely contested by local part-timers.
In the final, she came from a set and 3-0 down to overpower Halep -- the bookmakers' favourite since the start of the tournament -- with the unlikely tally of 54 clean winners.
She is so extraordinarily trigger-happy that, when pushed out wide, she responds by lashing improbable, down-the-line winners over the high part of the net.
After the match, Ostapenko was asked how she prefers to spend her time when she is not marmalising opponents or lifting grand slam trophies.
"I like to go to attraction parks and ride crazy rollercoasters," she replied. "To do sky jumps, because I like scary things."
This fits on several levels. For one thing, Ostapenko plays tennis like an adrenaline junkie. "I'm a bit of an extreme person," she added. "I like extreme things and that's probably why I play aggressive tennis."
And then there is her age. She is already the youngest slam champion since 2006, but her girlish features and giggly press conferences make her seem even younger -- like the sort of bubblegum-chewing teenager who might carry a stick of candyfloss around a fairground.
Her naivety is disconcerting for her opponents. Tennis is about the constant tension between risk and reward, but Ostapenko just keeps gambling. After her French Open semifinal, her defeated opponent Timea Bacsinszky could only shake her head and say: "We'll see if she does it at 28".
As for Sharapova, her intention is to return on the hard courts of Stanford, California, in an event which begins on July 30. This means that she will not be able to add to her 310 rankings points before the cut-off for the US Open, and will thus have to go through qualifying unless a wild card materialises.
It does seem ironic now that Sharapova should have provoked such turbulence, only to spend another 2-months on the sidelines. The All England Club might wonder why they bothered to set up TV coverage of Roehampton, while the Lawn Tennis Association's chief executive Michael Downey might also regret the ill-feeling he caused by inviting her to Birmingham.
As so often in this murky saga, no one comes off well.