Ahead of the Roland Garros women’s final between third-seeded Simona Halep and world No47 Jelena Ostapenko, we take a look at the main talking points and key stats.
Halep acknowledged in her press conference that she is “playing for two things” – a maiden Grand Slam trophy and the world No1 ranking. She does not sound daunted by either prospect but will no doubt feel the pressure when she steps on Court Philippe Chatrier on Saturday. Her previous experience in the 2014 final will help her though.
A quick look at Halep’s record against other big-hitters on the tour will show that the Romanian is 5-1 head-to-head against Madison Keys, who like Ostapenko can put some serious RPM on her forehand, and is also 5-1 against Karolina Pliskova, who leads the tour each year in number of aces and has brutal groundstrokes.
Halep can often be mistaken for being a Radwanska or a Wozniacki but she is in fact more aggressive than both and can handle the power-hitters. It’s worth remembering that she beat Serena Williams at the WTA Finals in Singapore in 2014 and has pushed the American to three sets on other occasions.
Halep dominated this clay season, winning Madrid, reaching the final in Rome and now the title match at Roland Garros. Her winning in Paris and rising to No1 at the same time can only bring some stability to the women’s tour. She isn’t coming out of nowhere, she’s been a top-10 player consistently for over three years, and has reached the quarter-finals or better in eight of her last 14 Slams. Her game translates to all surfaces and she has made great progress in solidifying her mental strength.
In one way, it could cement this prevalent notion that somehow the women’s game is in a state of “limbo” in the absence of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, and until recently Maria Sharapova (a view I personally don’t agree with). Ostapenko had never won a match at Roland Garros prior to this fortnight, clay is not her best surface, and she hadn’t had any breakthroughs at the majors, unless you count her third round in Melbourne last January. On the other hand, she’s the youngest finalist at a Slam in eight years and if she wins, she would be officially ushering in a new generation at a time where the 30+ club has been so dominant.
Halep must be aggressive on serve because Ostapenko has shown she goes for it from the very first shot and has already hit a stunning 42 return winners this fortnight. Ostapenko’s second serve is attackable and someone who is as good as a returner as Halep can cause the Latvian lots of trouble. Halep will try to move Ostapenko around while the 20-year-old will try keep points short.
1 – Ostapenko is the first Latvian to reach a Grand Slam final and would be her nation’s first ever major champion if she wins on Saturday.
5 – Ostapenko is the fifth unseeded player to reach the Roland Garros final in the Open Era and the first since Mima Jausovec finished runner-up to Chris Evert in 1983.
20 – years since someone as young as Ostapenko (she is 20 years old and 3 days) won the French Open women’s singles title. She is attempting to become the youngest Roland Garros champion since Iva Majoli (19 years, 300 days) lifted the trophy in 1997, and the youngest Grand Slam winner since Maria Sharapova (19 years, 77 days) at 2006 US Open.
39 – years since a Romanian woman won a Grand Slam. Halep is bidding to become just the second Romanian woman to win a major and first since her manager Virginia Ruzici won the French Open in 1978.
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Rafael Nadal is one win away from claiming a 10th Roland Garros title after he cruised into his 10th final in Paris with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 success over sixth-seeded Dominic Thiem on Friday to set up a showdown with Stan Wawrinka.
Nadal is just 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 Roger Federer (10 Wimbledon finals) and Sunday will be his 22nd appearance in a major final.
Thiem and Nadal were facing off in a fourth consecutive tournament and entered the contest leading the tour in most number of match wins on clay this season (22).
And while many expected the 23-year-old Austrian to be a tough test for Nadal, who lost to Thiem in Rome two weeks ahead of the tournament – the semi-final was by no means a tight affair.
“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.
“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.”
Thiem broke Nadal in the opening game of the match but the Spaniard responded immediately. Nadal ran away with the set in 45 minutes but found himself in trouble early in the second, facing two break points in his first service game.
Nadal saved both and got an opportunity of his own to break the following game thanks to some brilliant footwork and a forehand winner. The nine-time champion got the break to inch ahead. He was stepping inside the court, dictating with his renowned topspin forehand.
The Mallorcan leapt to a two-sets-to-one lead and broke three times to move ahead 5-0 in the third. Despite missing an overhead to start the sixth game and facing a break point, Nadal closed out the match, in two hours and seven minutes to put himself in a position to fight for a 15th Grand Slam title.
Nadal is yet to drop a set this fortnight, and is 15-3 against Wawrinka head-to-head (5-1 on clay).
“It’s true I have been playing a great event, but Stan is playing unbelievable. It’s going to be a very, very tough final. I watched his match, he’s hitting the ball really hard,” Nadal told Cedric Pioline on court.
Stan Wawrinka became the oldest Roland Garros finalist in 44 years after defeating Andy Murray 6-7 (3), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-1 in the semi-finals on Friday.
The Swiss, who won the French Open title in 2015, dug deep during the four-hour 34-minute affair to get the better of the world No1 and avenge his loss to Murray at the same stage last year.
There were shades of his 2015 triumph as Wawrinka stepped up physically and mentally to extinguish the Murray challenge.
He paid tribute to the Paris crowd that supported him throughout the marathon showdown.
The first set was a tug of war and the pair were on even ground until Wawrinka drew first blood in game eight. He ran down a Murray drop shot, pulled off some great reflexes before finding the forehand pass for a break and a 5-3 lead.
His advantage was brief though as Wawrinka failed to serve out the set, gifting Murray the break back as the set headed to a breaker.
There was more Wawrinka magic in the tiebreak as he once again won a contest with Murray at the net.
But it was the world No1 who kept his focus to clinch a 68-minute opening set.
Once again, it was Wawrinka who made the first move in the second set. He had chances in the fifth game but Murray squeezed out a service hold in a nine-minute game for 3-2. Wawrinka got his break though two games later and consolidated for a 5-3 lead.
The Swiss got his first set point on the Murray serve in game nine and leveled the match with a powerful return winner.
Wawrinka won his seventh game on the trot to open up a 3-0 gap in the third set, as he started to unleash his backhand with maximum effect. Murray finally stopped the bleeding the following game to hold, then got a break point for a chance to strike back. And the Scot was back in it as he out-rallied Wawrinka to cut his deficit to 2-3.
But the 2015 champion had other ideas. He broke again but the break-fest continued as Murray pegged Wawrinka back one more time.
Murray finally held serve to even the set at 4-all.
A horrendous volley from Wawrinka saw the No3 seed fall behind 0-40 and Murray broke for a 6-5 lead on his second opportunity.
The 30-year-old managed to serve it out for a two-sets-to-one advantage over Wawrinka as the match clock passed the three-hour mark.
Both players upped the ante in the seventh game of the fourth set. Murray unleashed a forehand passing shot winner to put pressure on Wawrinka.
But Wawrinka fired up the crowd with a blistering down-the-line forehand pass to retaliate and hold for 4-3.
The set went to a tiebreak and Wawrinka sent the crowd roaring as he forced a decider with a thunderous forehand return winner.
Wawrinka raced to a 5-0 lead in the fifth but missed a volley to get broken while serving for the match. But that only delayed the inevitable as Murray sent a forehand long to face two match points on his own serve.
And the Swiss sealed it the only way he knows how, with a signature backhand down-the-line winner to reach the fourth Grand Slam final of his career. He is 3-0 in major finals.
“He played obviously better in that (fifth) set. I lost a little bit of speed on my serve which wasn’t allowing me to dictate many points on my own serve. Yeah, that was it,” said Murray, who was a runner-up in Paris last season.
“I mean, he obviously hit some greats shots in the fifth, but, you know, I didn’t keep the score close enough to sort of put him under pressure.”
Murray had a 0-30 half chance when he was down 0-3 in the fifth. He feels a break there could have perhaps turned things around for him but then the set went away from his grasp way too fast.
“Physically I didn’t feel my best at the end. It is more like I didn’t have enough weight on my shot at the end of the match to, you know, to put him under any real pressure,” admits Murray.
“So a lot of the points he was dictating from the middle of the court, and I was sort of retrieving and allowing him to pretty much hit the shots that he wants. And against a shot-maker, someone who hits the ball as big as him, that’s obviously not ideal.
“Whether that was down to me being a little bit slower in the fifth set or whatever it was, it was not a successful tactic, hitting the ball short in the middle of the court. Didn’t work,” he added sarcastically with a hint of a smile.
Despite the disappointment of defeat, Murray is pleased with how he has picked up his form this tournament. According to the Scot, he came into Paris “playing garbage”, but has managed to defeat high-quality players like Juan Martin del Potro and Kei Nishikori en route to the semi-finals at Roland Garros.
“I’m proud of the tournament I had. I did well considering. I was one tiebreak away from getting to the final when I came in really struggling. So I have to be proud of that,” said the three-time Grand Slam champion.
“Maybe the lack of matches hurt me a little bit in the end today. That was a very high intensity match. A lot of long points. When you haven’t been playing loads, you know, over four, four-and-a-half hours, that can catch up to you a little bit. So I only have myself to blame for that, for the way I played coming into the tournament.
“But I turned my form around really, really well and ended up having a good tournament, all things considered.”