Halep, who retained her world No. 1 ranking by advancing to the championship match, lost in last year’s French Open final to the then unseeded Jelena Ostapenko in three sets.
Stephens is into her second final in the last three Slams and owns a perfect 6-0 record in career finals.
The American defeated her compatriot Madison Keys in Thursday’s semi-finals, while Halep overcame Spanish 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza.
Here’s a deep dive into all the stats surrounding this final match-up.
0 – Halep is 0-3 in Grand Slam finals so far in her career.
1 – Only one of Stephens’ six titles has come on clay, in Charleston in 2016.
2 – Halep has won the two encounters she has had with Stephens on clay.
2 – Halep is attempting to become the second Romanian woman to win a Grand Slam title, following Virginia Ruzici’s triumph at Roland Garros in 1978.
4 – Halep has won her last four meetings against Stephens.
4 – Stephens will make her rankings top-five debut, at No.4, having advanced to the final. The last American to hold a top-five ranking other than Venus or Serena Williams was Lindsay Davenport in April 2006.
6 – of Halep’s 16 titles have come on clay.
6 – wins and 0 losses for Stephens in career finals.
8 – By reaching the final, Halep has moved into eighth place on the women’s all-time list of highest career earnings. She’ll be just shy of $25m.
9 – Stephens is the ninth American woman in the Open Era to contest a Roland Garros final. She’s the first American not named Williams since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 to feature in a French Open final.
16 – wins and 14 losses for Halep in career finals. She’s lost six of her last seven.
28 – US Open champion Stephens is looking to become the 28th woman in the Open Era to win multiple Grand Slam titles.
32 – Halep is looking to win a major on her 32nd Grand Slam appearance. If she wins today, only seven women will have taken longer to win their first major trophy.
49 – The average ranking of Halep’s opponents en route to the final this fortnight is 49.
58 – The average ranking of Stephens’ opponents en route to the final this fortnight is 58.
212 – Stephens was ranked 212 this time last year, as didn’t play the French Open because she was out with a foot injury. She entered Roland Garros this fortnight ranked No. 10.
Dominic Thiem probably didn’t expect to take on world No. 72 Marco Cecchinato in the semi-finals of Roland Garros when he initially saw his draw.
But the Italian, who had never won a Grand Slam main draw match prior to this fortnight, has shocked the tennis world by posting five victories in Paris, including one over Novak Djokovic (arguably the match of the tournament so far).
Thiem eased past an ailing Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals on Tuesday while Cecchinato stunned David Goffin and Djokovic in back-to-back four-setters to hit a new career milestone.
A maiden Grand Slam final awaits the winner of the clash between Thiem and Cecchinato on Friday at the French Open.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
It’s hard to get enthusiastic about what would have been an incredible dark horse story for Cecchinato due to the fact that he was found guilty of match-fixing in 2016 but then later got acquitted due to a technicality during his appeal. More can be found on this here.
Cecchinato has refused to discuss this topic throughout these two weeks in Paris. And while his wins at this tournament — especially the one against Djokovic — and in Budapest, where he captured his maiden ATP title as a lucky loser, are admirable, one cannot ignore the dark cloud of serious match-fixing allegations hovering over him.
This is Thiem’s third consecutive semi-final appearance at Roland Garros and the odds are stacked in his favour to make a first Grand Slam final. The No. 7 seed is looking to become just the second Austrian player — man or woman — to make a major final, following Thomas Muster.
NUMBERS FAVOUR DOMINIC
Thiem has not lost a clay court match to a player ranked as low as No. 72 Cecchinato since falling to No. 421 Jurgen Melzer in the second round at 2016 Kitzbuhel.
He has never lost a player ranked as low as Cecchinato at Roland Garros – the lowest-ranked player to defeat him here is No. 23 Pablo Cuevas in the second round in 2015.
Thiem enters this semi-final carrying a nine-match winning streak, having claimed the title in Lyon in the week prior to the French Open.
WHAT THE PLAYERS SAID
Thiem on how different he feels this year compared to the last two times he made the semis here:
“I think this year I’m physically and mentally fresher than I have been the last two years. I know how to handle a Grand Slam now, how to handle — to get that deep in such a tournament, and I think everything gets better with experience.”
Thiem on his semi-final opponent:
“Cecchinato is full of confidence, probably the most confident player out there right now. He never won a match at a Slam, and now he’s in the semi-finals. So everything is going easy for him. He can play completely free.”
Cecchinato on his surprise run to the last-four:
“I think it’s changed the life. So after Roland Garros, I need some rest and to realize the moment, and we will see my life.”
For a second time in the last three Grand Slams, Rafael Nadal will square off against Juan Martin del Potro in the semi-finals.
Nadal’s rain-interrupted four-set win over Argentina’s No. 11 seed Diego Schwartzman on Thursday saw him become just the third man in the Open Era to reach 11 semi-finals at the same Grand Slam (alongside Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors).
Del Potro’s four-set win against Marin Cilic, which also took place over two days due to weather disruptions, saw the fifth-seeded Argentine reach the semi-finals at Roland Garros for the first time since 2009. He ended his seven-match losing streak against top-five opposition on clay.
Both winners return to the court on Friday for a highly-anticipated semi-final, with Del Potro trying to hand Nadal just his third-ever defeat in a best-of-five match on clay.
DELPO’S CLOSE CALL
When Del Potro’s 15-match winning streak came to an end at the hands of John Isner in Miami last March, the Argentine was not sure how much he would be playing on clay this season. He then decided to go to Madrid after a decent training block, but then sustained a leg injury in Rome, where he retired during his last-16 clash with David Goffin. With question marks surrounding his participation at Roland Garros, no one expected Del Potro to play, let alone do well here. He is now into his fifth career Slam semi-final, has taken his 2018 win-loss record to 28-6.
THE WEATHER FACTOR
It’s not a secret that sunny, warm conditions aid Nadal’s topspin game on clay and when it was damp and overcast on Wednesday, Schwartzman was able to capitalise on that and he pressured the Spaniard for a set and a half before rain suspended play. While Del Potro’s has a different game to Schwartzman, he too won’t mind some rain on Friday to limit the damage Nadal’s lefty topspin forehand can do against his still-not-perfect backhand (three wrist surgeries have had a lasting effect on Del Potro’s backhand). The forecast keeps changing here, and after initial reports indicated Friday would be rainy, it looks like it’s just going to be partly cloudy.
NADAL STILL GETS NERVOUS
“I am a human person,” Nadal reminded everyone in his press conference on Thursday. The 10-time Roland Garros champion still gets nervous on big occasions, which we saw against Dominic Thiem in Madrid, and against Schwartzman early in their match on Wednesday in Paris. He’s only every lost two matches at Roland Garros since he made his debut here in 2005 but he insists there are never any guarantees.
“Quarter-finals, important match for me. Was a match that maybe is a key match. So these kind of matches that can give you the chance to keep going or, for another side, you lose all the chances, no, against a tough opponent that I had problems with him in Australia and Madrid. Even if it was 6-3, 6-4, it was an uncomfortable match for me. I know it was going to be a tough match, and I was a little bit more nervous than usual,” he said of his quarterfinal against Schwartzman.
THE CLAY FACTOR
While Del Potro has a respectable 5-9 record against Nadal head-to-head, he is 0-2 against the Mallorcan on clay. This will be their first meeting on the red dirt since the Davis Cup final in 2011.
Del Potro has played just 24 matches on clay in the last five seasons. Nadal has played more matches on clay this season alone.
WHAT THE PLAYERS SAID
Nadal on whether the psychological advantage he has over his opponents ever adds pressure on his shoulders:
“It is something that I am living always with this. I don’t feel this psychological advantage. And because I don’t consider myself there and the opponents there (indicating difference in level) that’s not affecting me in a negative way. I just go on court knowing that every match is difficult and I can lose and I can win. That’s the sport. So I know if I’m playing my best then I have my chances always. My only advantage and my only goal is I know if I play my best, I gonna have good chances.”
Nadal on how he embraces the pressure:
“I don’t have any obligation to win, first thing. Second thing, if you don’t feel the pressure, it’s because you don’t love the sport. And if you don’t love the sport is better to come back home and do another thing. And that’s it. Pressure is part of the sport in general. I don’t feel the pressure now in semifinals. I feel the pressure every day, but not here. I feel the pressure in every match of the year. And here is an important event for me. Pressure is good. You are able to control that, then things can — that pressure, that adrenaline can be in a positive way. And I believe that after that stop yesterday that adrenaline and that pressure was in a positive way, no?”
Del Potro on making the semis after nearly missing the tournament through injury:
“I’m feeling so, so happy to make the right decision for play here. I am doing well. Of course I didn’t expect to get in semi-finals couple of weeks before (smiling). But now I’m here, and I’m still alive. My physical is good, and hopefully I can be ready for tomorrow.”
Del Potro on the career longevity of Nadal and Roger Federer:
“I thought that after nine years I will play a different one, not Rafa or Roger. But all my semi-finals in Grand Slam was against them. The last one in US Open I lost against Rafa. In Wimbledon I lost against Djokovic. Here with Federer. And, I mean, it’s a big challenge to play them in Grand Slam. But anyways, I think they shows how good they are at playing Grand Slams because, after 10 years, they are fighting to win these kind of tournaments. It’s amazing for the tennis, the tennis world.”
Del Potro on how confident he is in his chances against Nadal on Friday:
“Tomorrow I will try to play a match as I did in a different surface against Rafa, but he’s lefty and what I say before my match against [Albert] Ramos-Vinolas, a lefty player has advantage with me because he can find easily my backhand, and he knows what my backhand is at the moment. But anyways, I will try to do my best, to play my best tennis, and see if I can do a good match.”
4 — Del Potro will return to the top-four in the rankings on Monday, for the first time since February 2014.
6 — Del Potro is the sixth Argentinean man in history to reach multiple semi-finals at Roland Garros.
11 — Roland Garros semi-finals for Nadal, an Open Era record.
27 — Grand Slam semi-final appearances for Nadal, 5th most by a man in the Open Era.
28 — Del Potro and Nadal both recorded their 28th match wins this season. Only two men have won more matches in 2018 – Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, who have both won 34.
235 — Grand Slam match wins for Nadal, third most behind Federer (332) and Djokovic (244).