PARIS, FRANCE – The scene is now set for Simona Halep’s fourth attempt to become a Slam winner, but surprise US Open champion Sloane Stephens stands in her way.
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After 13 days of trying weather conditions, and at times tricky opponents, we are left with the last two women standing to contest the final for the Roland Garros title – World No. 1 Simona Halep, and reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
Simona Halep – Path to Roland Garros Final
R1: Alison Riske 2-6 6-1 6-1
R2: Taylor Townsend [WC] 6-3 6-1
R3: Andrea Petkovic 7-5 6-0
R4: Elise Mertens  6-2 6-1
QF: Angelique Kerber  6-7(2) 6-3 6-2
SF: Garbiñe Muguruza  6-1 6-4
Every player becomes adept at batting away the suggestions of pressure, but at times Halep chooses to wear it as a badge of honour. She has been refreshingly honest about not fighting with the inevitable nerves that have come with reaching a fourth Grand Slam final in all, and her third on the terre battue in Paris.
It was not even the most auspicious start as she found herself swiftly a set down to Alison Riskein her first round before hitting a strong run of form for the nest three rounds. She found herself playing the wrong tactics once more against Angelique Kerber, but fought her way back into contention before she ploughed through the two-time Grand Slam champion as well.
Perhaps it was her display over World No. 3 and up until the semi-final one of the clear favourites, Garbiñe Muguruza. In their last meeting in Cincinnati, with the World No. 1 on the line for the plucky little Romanian, she was completely blown off the court by the Spaniard. This time the tables were turned.
Sloane Stephens – Path to the Roland Garros final
R1: Arantxa Rus [LL] 6-2 6-0
R2: Frech 6-2 6-2
R3: Giorgi 4-6 6-1 8-6
R4: Kontaveit  6-2 6-0
QF: Daria Kasatkina  6-3 6-1
SF: Madison Keys  6-4 6-4
Few could have predicted last year that Stephens, returning after a foot injury had side-lined her for 11 months, would go on to win her first major. She would go win-less all the way to Acapulco in February of this year.
Despite early injury issues at the start of the year, she has looked steady, winning Miami and embarking on a clay court run that has been most impressive for an American in particular.
She came a little unstuck at the hands of volatile Italian Camila Giorgi, who’s powerful hitting saw Stephens drop a set for the first time in the tournament before finally rounding out the win at 8-6 in the deciding set.
She made mincemeat after Anett Kontaveit, who dispatched Petra Kvitova, who had been one of the favourites, coming into the tournament on a strong unbeaten run. Her win over Daria Kasatkina was ruthlessly efficient and while her rematch with Madison Keys some nine months after beating her for the US Open title was a lot more competitive, Stephens steady but athletic play combatted the big hitter for a spot at a first Roland Garros final.
POLL: Who will win the Roland Garros women’s singles title?
When all said and done we have a great final in store. On the one hand, Halep will be hoping her fourth time in the frame, her third here will prove to be the lucky one. On the other, remarkably Stephens has a 6-0 record in finals.
Both have a good aggressive style of play, and both are known for the athleticism around the court. Halep’s flat hitting means she can send the ball deep and dominate rallies but has also shown great aptitude for killing the points early.
She will run and run for every ball – she showed against Kerber that she will just keep going and miraculously she has not managed to roll her ankle at this Slam so we can see just how fit she can be.
That being said, Stephens is also known for her athleticism and it gives her a lot of variety around the court. Stephens is a bit more of an all court player and will often come forward to finish at the net – she is sharp at the net so Halep will have to expect to be coming forward a lot more.
Both have powerful serves, both can defend just as effectively as they can attack, and both have the capability to rally for as long as it takes. All in all they are evenly matched.
Halep is on a four-match winning streak against Stephens, that started in the French Open 2014 on her way to her first Slam final. All their encounters have been straight sets wins, but this has the feeling of a three-setter to decide who goes home with the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen.
Halep sized Stephens up ahead of the final: “I know that she’s strong opponent. She’s hitting the ball. I will be similar to today. I will play my game against her, as I did last year. It’s clay. It’s different. It’s different match, different year. So, I expect nothing. I just want to go there and try to keep my tactic and keep my positive things every second.”
She will have to have a degree of confidence in their current winning streak and if she starts the final as she did in her semi-final against Muguruza, she gives herself every chance of being the one in control.
Stephens has a similar win-loss record at Roland Garros, and an enviable record of all wins and no losses in finals, but this will be a great test.
She said: “I’m expecting her to compete. Obviously she’s No. 1 in the world. There is reason why she’s in the finals. I can’t give you a play-by-play on her game, but if you ask my coach he probably can.
“I think for myself I’ll just have a good game plan and just try to execute the best I can when I go out there. It’s just mainly about competing. No one is going to hand you the match. It’s a Grand Slam final. You have to go out there and get after it and make sure you play every point and try to execute your game plan as best as possible.”
Perhaps the tennis gods will choose this day to smile on the perennial bridesmaid?
Prediction: Halep in three sets.
Halep and Stephens will play the Roland Garros women’s final at 3pm on Saturday (2pm BST).
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