By Ros Satar
- Simona Halep  v Jelena Ostapenko
- H2H: First Meeting
PARIS, FRANCE – What a first meeting in store as Simona Halep bids to win the French Open on her second attempt, while Jelena Ostapenko could make her first title a Slam.
Jelena Ostapenko’s Path to the Final
- R1: Louisa Chirico 4-6 6-3 6-2
- R2: Monica Puig 6-3 6-2
- R3: Lesia Tsurenko 6-1 6-4
- R4: Sam Stosur  2-6 6-2 6-4
- QF: Caroline Wozniacki  4-6 6-2 6-2
- SF: Timea Bacsinszky 7-6(4) 3-6 6-3
It has been far from easy for Jelena Ostapenko having to come from a set down three times already this tournament, including her first match and then against former finalist Sam Stosur and the former World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki. She plays a fearless game, but the feistiness gives way to some drama.
She has plenty of fight, and has absolutely nothing to lose, having come out of a section of the draw that was ripped apart from the start with the (un) surprising demise of World No. 1 and clay-averse Angelique Kerber.
Simona Halep’s Path to the Final
- R1: Jana Cepelova 6-2 6-3
- R2: Tatjana Maria 6-4 6-3
- R3: Daria Kasatkina  7-6(1) 6-4
- R4: Carla Suárez Navarro  6-1 6-1
- QF: Elina Svitolina  3-6 7-6(6) 6-0
- SF: Karolina Pliskova  6-4 3-6 6-3
By contrast Simona Halep, who came into the tournament carrying a ligament tear to her ankle after a twist in the Rome final, coasted through until the quarter-final where she dropped the first set to her Rome conqueror. Up until that ankle twist she was considered one of the favourites in what was already considered a wide open draw.
Simona Halep  v Jelena Ostapenko – H2H: First Meeting
And so, after two weeks, with some shocks, some inspiring stories and some surprises along the way, we arrive at the women’s final. On the one hand we have Halep who many have been waiting for to ‘talk the talk’ as it were, after a breakout year and a run to a Slam final. On the other, Ostapenko – a feisty rising star who has the drama and talent in abundance.
First into the final was Ostapenko who left her teenage years behind, celebrating her 20th birthday in style with an upset of the last seed standing in that half of the draw. She beat No. 30 seed Timea Bacsinszky 7-6(4) 3-6 6-3 with solid play to surpass compatriot Ernests Gulbis’ run to the men’s semi-finals three years ago.
Halep was next to follow with an equally solid performance over a rapidly improving Karolina Pliskova on a surface that was not her favourite yet still improved enough to take the set off the emerging favourite.
Ostapenko is currently 0-3 in tour-level finals, including one final on clay this year, in Charleston, with her Top 20 debut secured having reached the final. Now the youngest player inside the Top 20 she could be looking at being No. 12 in the world should she claim her first title on Saturday.
There is plenty on the line as well for Halep – the World No. 1 spot would also come with her maiden title a she bids to become just the second Romanian woman to win a title since Virginia Ruzici claimed the French Open title in 1978.
Ostapenko has battered her way through the field but fatigue and of course nerves could play a huge part on Saturday, but she felt confident that her game had got her this far, it would be just one more push. She said in her pre-final press conference:
“Of course I didn’t expect that when I came here. But every match I was playing better and better and really happy to be in the finals here. Simona is a great player. And in the match against her of course I need to stay aggressive and to play my game. But it’s going to be a tough match and I have to be ready for it.”
There has been a lot of attention from home to deal with as well, as she admitted her mother had been fielding some important calls.
“Yesterday a lot of calls from Latvia, even the president of the country called. So was really nice the attention from my country.”
For Halep, perhaps there is more to lose. She has already been in this position before, losing to Maria Sharapova in 2014 following what was arguably her breakthrough year, where she won her first six titles in one year, on every surface. Since then she has been frustrating to watch as she has battled with the attention and at times attitude.
She told reporters: “It’s tough to know what to expect against Ostapenko. She’s hitting very strong the balls. But it will be similar to yesterday, so it’s going to be the same plan.
“But I will focus more on myself. I’m not focusing on herself too much. I just want to do my game, to be there, focused, to move well. It’s going to be a big match, tough match. I know that she can play her best tennis. She has nothing to lose. So I’m going there and I will be ready.”
In Stuttgart this year she admitted to press that she had been ashamed by her behaviour in Miami, and that Darren Cahill had stepped away from their coaching agreement to give her time to change things. What a difference the time has made as she has buckled down and planted herself firmly in the frame to win her first slam.
“Darren gave me many advises, technical, and I play better tennis like opening the court, thinking more, doing much more with the ball. So I learn also to spin a little bit the ball with him. And the mentality, which is the most important thing, I think.
“The break was definitely very good. It woke me up a little bit and made me realize that I have to change something to be in this position. I think was a great moment. And the fact that he had that power to finish, because it’s tough to finish. It helped me and that’s why today I’m here, and I won so many matches on clay.”
She will look to counter Ostapenko’s aggressive play with her own scrambling determination. Her defence is great and she too will thunder groundies from the baseline with plenty of aggression to match whatever comes back at her from the young Latvia. She has a decent serve to back it up, and now seems to have the belief that this is her time.
She has the experience of being here, in this particular arena – which will make a difference on the day, and there is no doubt she knows how to win titles, having done the double in Miami earlier in the season, not to mention the Rome final.
She added: “Three years ago it was, like, 50 people around me, my family, friends, everyone. So now I will stay with my team, same routine, same things, and I just want to get ready for tomorrow. I’m not thinking that is the final. I’m thinking just that it’s a normal match. But of course, I take the pressure because I like it.”
Prediction: Halep in three sets.
The Roland Garros 2017 Women’s final is scheduled on Court Philippe Chatrier at 3pm (2pm BST)
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