Halep's coach Cahill: Simona can walk tall and hold her head up high

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Halep lifts her runner-up trophy in Paris on Saturday.

Both Simona Halep and her coach Darren Cahill used the phrase being a ‘spectator on the court’ when they describe what it’s like facing Jelena Ostapenko’s shot-making at times.

The third-seeded Halep missed out on a chance to win her first Grand Slam title and rise to No1 in the world when she was stunned by the 47th-ranked Ostapenko in three sets on Saturday in the Roland Garros final.

Halep was up 6-4, 3-0, and was again up 3-1 in the deciding set, before she eventually succumbed to the barrage of winners off the Ostapenko racquet. The 20-year-old Latvian finished the tournament with a total of 299 winners through seven matches in Paris – 54 of which came against Halep.

“She played really well, all the credit. She was hitting very strong. At some point I was like a spectator on court. She deserved to win,” said Halep, who has now lost two French Open finals.

“Yeah, it’s tough. It’s a tough moment for me, but it’s gonna go away, I hope, with the time. I will keep working, because I really want to repeat what I have done this tournament. We will see what is gonna be.”

Halep, who fell to Sharapova in the 2014 Roland Garros final, entered the match against Ostapenko as the favourite. She had dominated most of the clay season, winning Madrid and reaching the final in Rome, and had experience on her side.

Ostapenko had never won a tour-level title, had never won a match at the French Open prior to this fortnight, and was the youngest finalist in Paris in 10 years. But none of that matter as the Latvian power-hitter overwhelmed one opponent after the other with her monster groundstrokes and carefree attitude.

Halep doesn’t believe she did much wrong on court and neither does her coach, Cahill.

“She played really well in the very tough moments for her when I was up set and 3-0. So I can say I was there, I was close, but again, I lost it. I cannot change anything, so I just have to look forward,” said the Romanian.

Cahill had briefly walked away from his partnership with Halep after Miami in March due to her negative attitude during matches but reunited with her prior to the clay season.

The Australian coach believes Ostapenko stepped up when she was down a set and break, rather than seeing it as Halep having a letdown.

“Simona didn’t do much wrong,” says Cahill.

“She played to the plan and she put the ball back that extra time, and Jelena just kept coming up with great shots. Jelena won this match, Simona did not lose it.

“So I think from our perspective, Simona can walk tall and hold her head up high. She had a wonderful clay-court season. This will be tough for sure but I think she will regroup and she’ll be a better player for it.”

Halep said during her on-court interview that she had been “sick to her stomach” with nerves prior to the match. A win would have made her the first Romanian woman to ever rank No1 in the world and just the second to win a Grand Slam behind her manager Virginia Ruzici.

She describes the 24 hours prior to the final as “tough”.

“I was very close to take the first Grand Slam and also No1 in the world. So it was a little bit of like emotional moment, but that’s it. I think everyone has it, and it’s good. So I want to have many more if it’s possible. That’s why I work 20 years and played 20 years to have this moment,” said the 25-year-old, who will rise to No2 in the rankings on Monday and will lead the Porsche Race to Singapore standings.

Halep has had issues before with being too self-critical and coming down hard on herself, particularly during matches. She has worked tirelessly with Cahill recently to rectify that problem and the worry now would be that a defeat like this in the French Open final would set her back emotionally and mentally. Cahill is optimistic that won’t be the case.

“I have faith that eventually she’ll get over it,” he says.

“It’s her second Grand Slam final, it’s obviously a wonderful thing to make it through to the final and it’s difficult to win them and that’s why they’re so special when you finally do win one. Many players before lost in multiple finals before they finally won and Simona is just going to have to dig deep and keep working hard, come back stronger and give herself another chance.

“And I have full faith that one of these days she’s going to hold one of these trophies.”

Halep’s status in Romania is huge and she shoulders immense pressure of expectation from her followers back home.

Scores and scores come out to support her everywhere she goes and Cahill believes she deals with it all impeccably well.

Halep and her coach Cahill with Ion Tiriac the day before the final.

Halep and her coach Cahill with Ion Tiriac the day before the final.

“I think she handles that like a pro. I don’t know anybody that loves their country more than she does,” he says.

“She loves going back there, she loves the people in Romania. I hope they get behind her, and I’m sure they will because they’re a passionate country, passionate people, she loves spending time there. If she’s a little bit down over the next week or so, they’ll certainly pick her up.

“I know she’s looking forward to getting home. It’s been a long clay-court season for her, she’s been going since straight after Miami, through Fed Cup, that was the first clay court event for her and she’s played pretty much every day all the way through to here. So she’s going to be tired, it will be a good chance for her to recharge the batteries, spend some time at home and hopefully the Romanian people will get behind her.”

In one way, Halep winning her first major and rising to the top of the rankings would have brought a sense of stability to the women’s game at a time when many of its powerhouses like Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, and Petra Kvitova have been absent.

But Cahill believes Ostapenko’s win and the women’s tournament in Paris this fortnight have been equally beneficial to the WTA.

“I think the whole tournament has been a plus for the women’s game,” he says.

“I think there’s been a lot of wonderful matches, not just from Simona’s side but certainly from the other side. And the fact that at the moment you can have a dart board and you can throw a dart and any number of women can step up and make it through to a final or win one of these tournaments, I think that creates a lot of interest in women’s tennis.

“And we just want to create some rivalries now. I’d love to see Jelena back this up, and continue to play well and then a lot of these top players continue to play against each other, create some rivalries, a lot interest in the women’s game. I think overall regardless of who won this match, it was going to be a good result for women’s tennis.”

As for Halep, she knows this loss will be painful for a while and admits she needs time to get over it. Rafael Nadal spent the second week of last year’s Roland Garros on a boat with his girlfriend, trying to forget the agony of injury that forced him to withdraw from the tournament after the second round.

Halep too must find her own version of that getaway.

“This one hurts a lot maybe because I am more – I realise more what is happening,” she says, comparing this defeat to the one she suffered to Sharapova in 2014.

“Three years ago was something new, so now I know. Hurts a lot, and I need time just to – I don’t know. To go away.”

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Legends and players weigh in on Nadal's potential 'Decima'

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More history for Rafa?

Rafael Nadal watched his beloved football club Real Madrid chasing ‘La Decima’ for 12 years before they finally achieved it in 2014.

The club’s and fans’ obsession with winning a 10th European Cup (Champions League) trophy took on a life of its own, and it made it all the more sweeter for Los Blancos and their Madridistas when they ultimately sealed the deal against Atletico Madrid at Estadio da Luz in Lisbon.

On Sunday, Nadal has a chance to secure his own ‘Decima’ at Roland Garros. And while the Spaniard and his entire team have downplayed its significance – “Nine is my favourite number,” he joked on Friday – it will still be a historic feat many fans and pundits are salivating over.

If Nadal defeats Stan Wawrinka in Sunday’s final, he would become the first man ever and second player in history to win 10 or more titles at the same Grand Slam event (only Margaret Court has won 11, at the Australian Open).

The Mallorcan’s last Grand Slam title came three years ago at the 2014 Roland Garros and his bad luck with injuries meant that some people had written him off and never thought he would be in this position again, fighting for a major trophy.

But Nadal this year has silenced his doubters as he reached the Australian Open final in January then won three titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid in the build-up to Paris.

The prospect of him lifting a 10th Coupe des Mousquetaires at Roland Garros on Sunday is described as “outrageous” by former world No1 Lindsay Davenport.

“It’s so amazing. Just as he’s been gathering momentum all year, the final in Australia, the final in Miami – whenever he plays well on hard court, you’re like watch out on the clay, which is exactly what happened,” Davenport said in Paris earlier this week.

“But I don’t think you can even put into context, it’s so outrageous. I hope it happens purely because of that. I love seeing history being made and for Rafa, and how hard he’s worked, and everything he’s overcome with injuries, I’m like a huge fan. I could be the wrong one to ask but I hope it happens for him because he’s amazing.”

His co-coach Carlos Moya, a champion in Paris 1998, made sure ‘La Decima’ was not discussed within the team, and he struggles to find the words that would give the achievement justice.

“I guess there are no words that haven’t been written already about what that would mean but we don’t want to think about that, we don’t like to think about that,” said Moya. “We just try to go step by step, we feel that there is some extra pressure because it’s Roland Garros and he’s playing well and having good results, but we are trying to forget that and go match by match.”

Nadal has given one impeccable performance after the other throughout the fortnight in Paris, dropping just 29 games over six matches.

He owns a 78-2 win-loss record at Roland Garros and has never lost a final here.

“To win 10 of anything is phenomenal. The frightening thing is that he’s won more titles here than I’ve actually won matches,” jokes 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash.

“He brought something to the game with tennis we’ve never seen before and particularly this Centre Court accentuates those strengths that he’s got, it’s quite phenomenal watching it happen.

“It’s incredibly exciting. To win 10 titles would be phenomenal.”

Active players are also keeping an eye on Nadal’s quest for a mythical 10th. Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska tipped the Spaniard to pull it off when she spoke to reporters in Paris during the first week of the tournament.

“That’s something for sure unbelievable. I believe he can do it. He’s playing amazing tennis this year on clay, winning all those tournaments on clay already,” said Radwanska.

His opponent in Sunday’s final, Wawrinka, is not daunted by the fact that he will be standing between Nadal and that unprecedented achievement.

“I think to play Rafa on clay in French Open in a final is probably the biggest challenge you can have in tennis. He’s the best player ever on clay. As you say, he’s going for his 10th Roland Garros, so it’s something really impressive, something tough,” said Wawrinka on Friday.

“It’s for sure gonna be really difficult. But again, in the end of the day, it’s the final. The pressure is on both players. No one go on the court thinking he has no pressure. We both want to win the title, and we both gonna give it all on the court.

“He’s for sure gonna be the favourite with what he’s done in the past, but also this season already he’s playing so well. So I will have for sure to play my best tennis. But again, I did in the past, so we will see what’s gonna happen on Sunday.”

We find out on Saturday whether Nadal will do it, or if Wawrinka will claim his own place in history as the first man to ever beat the Mallorcan in a Roland Garros final.

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Key stats and main talking points ahead of Nadal-Wawrinka RG final

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Chasing history: Nadal and Wawrinka.

With Rafael Nadal chasing an unprecedented 10th Roland Garros crown, and Stan Wawrinka looking to become the first Swiss to ever win multiple titles at the French Open, history is on the line in Paris on Sunday.

Here are the main talking points and key stats ahead of this blockbuster showdown.

MAIN TALKING POINTS

Will nerves play a factor?

It’s been three years since Nadal has won a Grand Slam title. Within that period, Wawrinka added two more to his tally – at the 2015 French Open and 2016 US Open. Nadal made his first final since the 2014 Roland Garros at the Australian Open last January, and walked away with the runner-up trophy to Roger Federer.

Can Wawrinka replicate his brutal form from his semi-final against Murray?

Since the start of 2014, each time Wawrinka has beaten a top-10 player at a Grand Slam, he has gone on to win the title in three of the four occasions this has happened. In 2014 Australian Open, he beat Djokovic (No2), Berdych (No7), then Nadal (No1) back-to-back to win the title. In the 2015 Australian Open, he beat Nishikori (No5) then lost to Djokovic (No1) in the semis. In the 2015 French Open, he beat Federer (No2) then Tsonga (No15) then Djokovic (No1) to win the title. In the 2016 US Open, he beat Nishikori (No7) then Djokovic (No1) to win the title. History shows that he can back up big wins at the majors.

Has Nadal been tested enough en route to the final?

This is not the first time Nadal has cruised to the final without dropping a set but it is the fewest games he’s ever dropped en route to the title match (29 games). Dominic Thiem was meant to be his biggest test of the fortnight – on paper – but the Austrian could not push Nadal to his limits. Some people think the Spaniard is lacking that one big test before the final but in Nadal’s case, the fact that he has spent five hours less on court compared to Wawrinka can only work to his advantage.

Is Wawrinka capable of hurting Nadal on clay?

The Swiss certainly has the power and the tools, but it’s worth noting that he trails Nadal 1-6 on clay with the only win he has coming in Rome 2015 when Nadal was far from his best. Now that Nadal has recovered his brutal topspin forehand, Wawrinka might have a tough time countering it with his one-handed backhand.

KEY STATS

1 – Wawrinka is bidding to become the first Swiss player – man or woman – in history to win Roland Garros on multiple occasions.

2 – If Nadal wins, he’ll rise to No2 in the rankings for the first time since October 2014.

2 – If Wawrinka wins, he’ll reach a career-high ranking of No2.

2 – This is the second Grand Slam final between the pair. Wawrinka won their only previous won in the 2014 Australian Open.

3 – wins for Nadal and 3 for Wawrinka in their last six meetings against each other, since the start of 2014.

3 – Nadal is the third man in history to make 10 appearances in the final at one Grand Slam event after Bill Tilden (10 US Open finals) and Federer (10 Wimbledon finals).

4 – Wawrinka is bidding to become the second man in the Open Era to win his first four Grand Slam finals after Roger Federer, who won his first seven.

5 – times in his career Nadal has made it to the Roland Garros final without dropping a set.

6 – wins for Nadal and one loss against Wawrinka on clay.

7 – Nadal has won seven of his last eight meetings against top-five opponents at the Slams.

10 – Nadal is trying to become the first player in the Open Era and just second in history to win the same Grand Slam 10 times (Margaret Court won 11 Australian Opens).

11 – Wawrinka is trying to post his 11th consecutive match win to extend his career-best winning streak.

15 – Nadal is gunning for a 15 Grand Slam title which would give him sole ownership of the second spot on the men’s all-time list, one clear of Pete Sampras and three behind Federer.

22 – This is Nadal’s 22nd Grand Slam final. He has a 14-7 win-loss record in title matches at the majors.

23 – Nadal leads the tour with 23 wins on clay this season against just one defeat.

26 – five-set wins and 20 losses for Wawrinka after his five-set win over Murray in the semi-finals.

29 – Nadal has dropped just 29 games en route to the final. It’s the second fewest games dropped into a Grand Slam final in the Open Era where the best-of-5 set format has been played.

30+ – Wawrinka and Nadal are the first pair of players aged 30 or over to contest a Roland Garros final since 1969, when 30-year-old Rod Laver defeated 34-year-old Ken Rosewall.

32 – At 32 years and 75 days old, Wawrinka is looking to become the first man in the Open Era to win multiple Roland Garros titles after turning 30.

42 – Nadal leads the tour with 42 wins this season against just six losses.

44 – years since someone as old as Wawrinka has reached the Roland Garros men’s singles final. The Swiss is the oldest French Open finalist since Niki Pilic in 1973.

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