Former world number two Simona Halep has certainly found her mojo again after returning to European clay courts. The Romanian had a meagre 6-4 win-loss record before the clay court season started.
Now, the 2014 French Open finalist boasts a 12-1 win-loss record since losing to eventual champion Laura Siegemund at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in the semifinals. Halep carries on her good streak at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia following her second title at the Mutua Madrid Open last week. The Romanian is one of the favourites for the French Open title, and she is looking to become the first woman since Serena Williams to win Madrid and Rome back-to-back, who achieved this feat in 2013 and went to win the French Open.
Halep's got her work cut out for her in the final as she will be playing against eighth seed Elina Svitolina. The Ukranian is the form player of 2017 as she has reached a joint tour high of four finals along with Kristina Mladenovic. Svitolina is unbeaten in tour finals this year with a perfect 3-0 record, and she has claimed a title on clay in Istanbul.
Svitolina now leads the WTA Race to Singapore, and she is set to rise to a new career-high ranking of nine but should she beat Halep in the final, she will become the world number six. The Ukranian's good results have been coming for a while as she defeated Serena Williams at the Rio Olympics last year, and has beaten Angelique Kerber on more than occasion.
Halep's path to the final
The sixth seed began her quest to complete the Madrid-Rome double by gaining her revenge against Siegemud in the second round, after receiving a bye in the first round. The world number four recorded a 6-4, 6-4 victory over the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix champion. However, Halep's second round encounter with 13th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was slightly tougher. Halep won the opening set but the Russian fought back to take it to three sets.
Nevertheless, Halep weathered the storm recording a confidence-boosting, 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 victory. In the quarterfinals, the Romanian defeated Angelique Kerber's conqueror Anett Kontaveit, 6-2, 6-4, advancing to the semifinals at the Foro Italico for the third time. Finally, Halep was able to get over the line, and reaching the final in the Eternal City for the first time defeating 15th seed Kiki Bertens, 7-5, 6-1.
Svitolina's path to the final
The world number 11 has been equally impressive and has moved through the draw quietly. Svitolina was up against former finalist Alize Cornet in the second round, after receiving a bye. The Ukranian defeated the feisty Frenchwoman in straight sets, 6-4, 7-6 (11). Svitolina had a bizarre third round clash with Mona Barthel, after losing the first set, she won the next 12 games on the bounce to record a 3-6, 6-0, 6-0 victory, reaching the quarterfinals in Rome for the first time. However, Svitolina's biggest victory in this tournament was over second seed Karolina Pliskova.
The eighth seed staved off all three set points that she faced, defeating the lanky Czech, 6-2, 7-6 (9) to reach her first semifinals in Rome. Svitolina had a short day at the office as she defeated French Open champion Garbine Muguruza, who had to retire at 4-1 down in the opening set with a neck injury, and doing so, she advanced to reach her second Premier 5 final of the year.
Surprisingly, Halep and Svitolina's path on the WTA tour has only crossed once. It was at the 2013 WTA Tournament of Champions in Sofia, which Svitolina came in as an alternate to replace Maria Kirilenko. Nonetheless, Halep thrashed Svitolina, 6-1, 6-1, and the former world number two went on to claim the title in Bulgaria.
Who wins the title?
Both players are in scintillating form in 2017, and whilst clay is not Svitolina's strongest surface, the Ukranian is excelling on it. The eighth seed is competing in her tenth WTA career singles final, and it will be her third on the red dirt. Svitolina is unbeaten in clay courts final after defeating Timea Babos in Marrakesh in 2015 and Elise Mertens last three weeks ago in Istanbul. The Ukranian is also unbeaten in her last three finals, and her last defeat in a final was to Petra Kvitova in the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, last November. Nonetheless, Svitolina will need to serve well against Halep, and continue to use her forehand, which has been devastating in Rome. Her backhands have also been good, and she has shown her mental toughness throughout the tournament. Halep is a good returner, and it will be vital for Svitolina to have consistent first serve percentages in.
Halep will be competing in her 24 WTA career singles final, and it will be her 11th on clay. The Romanian has an even 5-5 record in clay court finals, and she is unbeaten in her last four WTA finals. Her last loss in a final was to Serena Williams at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati back in August 2015. Nonetheless, Halep will be looking to win this match, as if she is victorious, she will rise to number three in the rankings and become the second seed at the French Open. The Romanian's movement has been excellent on clay, and she is tough to beat on the surface. Halep's mentality has gone stronger as she briefly split with her coach Darren Cahill. This final should be a great match between two in-form clay courters, and Halep should continue her unbeaten streak heading into Roland Garros.
This final will take place at 12pm local time on Campo Centrale with a lot at stake for both players.
Prediction: Halep in three sets.