French Open final preview: Jelena Ostapenko vs Simona Halep

After almost two weeks of dramatic tennis, only two women are left standing in Paris, with the unseeded Jelena Ostapenko facing third seed Simona Halep for the French Open title.

Neither of the two has won a Grand Slam title before, with Ostapenko yet to even win a WTA singles title, meaning we will have a brand new champion in Paris. Furthermore, this will surprisingly be the first meeting between the two, marking the first time since the 2012 French Open final, between Maria Sharapova and Sara Errani, that two people play each other for the first time in a Grand Slam final.

Court Philippe Chatrier will host the French Open final between Jelena Ostapenko and S imona Halep on Saturday (Getty/Julian Finney)
Court Philippe Chatrier will host the French Open final between Jelena Ostapenko and Simona Halep on Saturday (Getty/Julian Finney)

There is naturally a lot at stake in this encounter, with the winner having the opportunity to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in front of the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd and receiving a staggering €2,100,000 in prize money. However there is even more at stake for Halep, who will become the world number one should she take the title; Ostapenko will rise up to 12th if she wins, with her semifinal winning guaranteeing her a top-20 debut.

Road to the final

Neither woman has had a particularly easy road to reach the final, though there is no doubt that both Ostapenko and Halep have played some high-quality tennis to make this stage.

Ostapenko’s run to the final has been incredible; despite having never made the second week of a Grand Slam before, the Latvian has hit a staggering 245 winners to reach this stage. She had a tough first round clash, coming from a set down to beat Louisa Chirico, though she the impressed with straight sets wins over Monica Puig and Lesia Tsurenko in the second and third rounds respectively to make the second week. There, she came from a set down to battle past 23rd seed and former French Open finalist Samantha Stosur, before once again coming from a set down to beat 11th seed Caroline Wozniacki for the third time this season to reach the last four. In a thrilling three-set encounter, the Latvian battled past 30th seed Timea Bacsinszky to make her maiden Grand Slam final; there is absolutely no doubt she will be full of confidence coming into this match.

Jelena Ostapenko celebrates after beating Timea Bacsinszky in three sets to make her first Grand Slam title (Getty/Aurelien Meunier)
Jelena Ostapenko celebrates after beating Timea Bacsinszky in three sets to make her first Grand Slam title (Getty/Aurelien Meunier)

Halep was arguably the favorite for the title heading into the tournament, and the third seed has shown her newly improved mentality to make her second French Open final despite the pressure on her. The Romanian eased past Jana Cepelova and Tatjana Maria in the first and second round respectively, before surviving a tougher second set to see off 26th seed Daria Kasatkina to make the second week without dropping a set. There, she crushed 21st seed Carla Suarez Navarro (who she had lost to four times on clay previously) for the loss of just two games, before producing arguably the comeback of the tournament against fifth seed Elina Svitolina, rallying from a set and 5-1 down and saving a match point to prevail in three sets. She faced another test in the semifinal, but battled past second seed Karolina Pliskova 6-3 in the decider to make her second French Open; she will surely believe she can go one step further than she did against Maria Sharapova in 2014.

Analysis

This will certainly be a tough contest between two determined competitors, both of whom like to be aggressive and dictate play. It seems that it is Ostapenko who is the slightly more powerful of the two so most the play could be on her racket, in which case she must be careful not to hand Halep too many free points. In contrast, though Halep won’t be completely overpowered by any stretch of the imagination, she must look to try and frustrate the Latvian and try and keep her own game as clean as possible.

One of the most interesting duels could be between Ostapenko’s forehand and Halep’s backhand. The Latvian has been virtually unstoppable so far when she cracks out her forehand, noticeably bullying both Wozniacki Bacsinszky around court at some stages with it in her past two clashes, and she must try to use this as much as possible; it arguably helps her that she played Bacsinszky in her last four clash, as Halep is another good mover and that will give her confidence that she can do the same in the biggest match of career. Likewise, Halep has also had a lot of success with her backhand; it has been an important shot throughout, especially in her comeback win over Svitolina. The Romanian should really look to use this shot to target both Ostapenko’s second serves and backhands, both of which could be quite vulnerable.

Simona Halep's backhand is one of the best on the tour and could be a key shot for her in her attempt to take the French Open title (Getty/Ian MacNicol)
Simona Halep's backhand is one of the best on the tour and could be a key shot for her in her attempt to take the French Open title (Getty/Ian MacNicol)

Finally, another key issue in this point could be mentality and the composure of the two. Though she has faced accusations of being mentally weak so far, Halep has been extremely composed so far and her previous experience at this stage could well be an advantage for her. She can be emotional on court occasionally but not as much as Ostapenko, who most retain her composure and not give the third seed too much to feed off; it is unlikely that the Latvian will be intimidated by the occasion, but her lack of experience may be a factor.

Assessment

Though there is a gap in both ranking and experience, this promises to be a highly competitive, and hopefully exciting, final. There is no doubt that Ostapenko will be ready for the occasion and will give it her all, but it seems with her added experience and slightly more consistent play that Simona Halep may finally capture a Grand Slam title that has alluded her for so long, and take the world number one title at the same time.

Prediction: Simona Halep in three sets

Other VAVEL USA writer's predictions

Don Han: Simona Halep in three sets

Tevon King: Simona Halep in three sets

Noel Alberto: Simona Halep in straight sets

Pan Mich: Simona Halep in three sets

Silas Low: Simona Halep in straight sets

Ramona Toderas: Simona Halep in straight sets

Max Gao: Simona Halep in three sets

Pavitra Ganesan: Simona Halep in three sets

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