Simona Halep is into the final of the French Open for the third time; however, this is the fourth career major final for the diminutive Romanian and she is hoping that the fourth time is the charm. Although she had a shaky start in the first round against American Alison Riske, who quickly won the first set 6-2; Halep elevated her game to win the next two sets, 6-1, 6-1. She had a much easier second round where she defeated another American, Taylor Townsend, 6-3, 6-1. Halep was in trouble again in the third round where Andrea Petkovic had her against the ropes until a knee injury derailed her and Halep won 7-5, 6-0. The Romanian had an uncomplicated fourth round where she easily defeated the sixteenth seed, Elise Mertens, 6-2, 6-1.
Halep was seriously tested in the quarterfinals by the twelfth seed, Angelique Kerber; however, after dropping the first set in a tiebreak, she made some adjustments to her game and won 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-2. Halep’s best performance came in the semifinals when she dismissed the third seed, Garbine Muguruza. Halep was impressive in her focus and her defense. Perhaps motivated by the prospect of getting to another major final, Halep withstood Muguruza’s charge in the second set to win 6-1, 6-4 and retained the number one ranking in the process.
The reigning US Open champion started her Roland Garros campaign with an impressive display, dispatching Arantxa Rus 6-2, 6-0 in forty-nine minutes. Her performance in the second round was equally impressive; she defeated Magdalena Frech in sixty-two minutes 6-2, 6-2. Things got a bit complicated for the American when she faced Camila Giorgi in the third round. Giorgi led their head-to-head (2:1) and after winning the first set, looked destined to improve that statistic; however, Stephens mounted a comeback and won the second set with some impressive defensive and offensive tennis. Yet, she was still in danger of losing the match as Giorgi served twice for the match and could not close it out. Stephens relied on her experience for the 4-6, 6-1, 8-6 (2h26mins) victory.
Stephens was back to her dominant self in the fourth round against the twenty-fifth seed, Anett Kontaveit, whom Stephens defeated 6-2, 6-0 in fifty-two minutes. She faced a potentially difficult opponent in the quarterfinals; however, Stephens handled the fourteenth seed, Daria Kasatkina, without too much trouble in seventy minutes and won 6-3, 6-1. Perhaps her toughest match was playing her good friend and the thirteenth seed, Madison Keys, in the semifinals. While it did not extend to three sets or take two hours, it was emotionally taxing. Stephens shrugged off her slight wobble in the second set when she failed to serve out the match on her first attempt and won 6-4, 6-4.
Halep has been on court a total of 8 hours and 55 minutes; meanwhile, Stephens has been on court only 7 hours and 36 minutes. They have both been tested physically and mentally and the final will be another significant test for both players.
Stephens has done what Halep has never done, won a major title. Halep has the psychological scar of losing the title last year after being up a set and a break and it may still be sore. Yet, tennis players know that in order to succeed they must have short term memory and Halep will try to forget about her previous losses in the major finals and remember how well she competed against a top opponent in the semifinals. Stephens will bring the confidence she gained from winning her first major title in her first attempt. Unfortunately for the American, this will be her sternest challenge since she has only defeated the Romanian twice in seven attempts and never on clay. In addition, the last time she defeated Halep was five years ago, which adds another layer to the challenge.
Halep is determined, and after coming up short in two previous attempts, she will be extremely motivated to claim the 2018 French Open title.
Can Stephens stop her?
SOURCE OF IMAGES: Zimbio.com (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images Europe: Sloane Stephens; Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe: Simona Halep)