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French Open Tennis • Paris • Simona Halep And Sloane Stephens To Play For The 2018 Roland Garros Title

Simona Halep of Romania plays Elise Mertens of Belgium during their women’s round of 16 match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 04 June 2018. EPA-EFE/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO



By: Frisco Kid


Perhaps there has never been an occasion bigger in the lives of Simona Halep and Sloane Stephens, the two WTA stars, two very different people and personalities going head to head for a rare chance at a Grand Slam title. Halep and Stephens both have came so far at Roland Garros before, displaying the talent, power, grit, and athleticism necessary to succeed on the terre battue of Paris, and both will be eager and nervous at the opportunity to hold a trophy they have both came so close to hoisting previously.


While Stephens already has a major title under her belt, triumphing in stunning fashion at the US Open last year just two months into a comeback, the Grand Slam crown the talented American had come closest to most in her career will be on the line Saturday, having broken through and shown her capability to one day win a French Open.


That dream has been so close yet the reality so far for her opponent Saturday; Halep has shown herself to be the best clay-court player of the last three years, having fantasised of a date with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen for years, and coming oh so close in finals in 2014 and just last year in 2017. Even greater desire and anxiety for the top-seeded Romanian will come from the pressure to finally win a major crown, having gone 0-3 in Grand Slam finals in her career and falling heartbreakingly close on Court Philippe Chatrier here last year against unseeded youngster Jelena Ostapenko and just a few months ago Down Under, getting edged out and out-played by Caroline Wozniacki for the Australian Open title.


While the pressure to finally win a Grand Slam as the number one player in the world has surely captivated and tortured the humble Romanian, every passing week, every shot at a major title seems to bring improvement and evolution in Halep’s mental strength, growing tougher in the big moments and simultaneously easier on herself. The two-time Roland Garros finalist will have a shot at redemption in Paris and showing the world the strides and improvements she truly has made.


Sloane Stephens of the USA plays Madison Keys of the USA during their women’s semi final match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 07 June 2018. EPA-EFE/CAROLINE BLUMBERG

The contrasts between the two French Open finalists couldn’t be stronger, Halep a consistent, perennial top player of the tour the last five years, yet one without that defining Grand Slam crown, Stephens a mercurial, enigmatic figure, one overflowing with talent, but with a lightning strike mentality as seen in her two surprising title runs in the last year at the US Open and a few months ago in Miami. Another key difference lies in their big match record. While Halep has sometimes struggled to close and occasionally crumbled on the biggest of stages, Stephens has always thrived with the spotlights on, an impeccable 6-0 in finals during her career.


It will be Halep’s task to summon a brilliant performance and to beat that. The matchup will be on the Romanian’s side, owning a 5-2 head-to-head record over the 25 year-old American, and more importantly having won their last four meetings- without the loss of a set- since both became top players on tour. The pair met once at Roland Garros during a defining time for Halep, moving past Stephens comfortably in the fourth round as she eventually went on to make her major breakthrough with a run to the final in 2014.


On the red clay of Paris in 2018, both players have been in impressive, resilient form, however it’s been the defending US Open champion turning heads through almost every match, putting together a Parisian masterpiece as she has combined her easy power, natural athleticism, and fighting spirit to charged through to the second major final of her career. Stephens has been mightily impressive in this fortnight, dominating every type of opponent imaginable. From the big-hitting power of Madison Keys and Naomi Osaka to the crafty game of Daria Kasatkina to the red-hot confidence of Anett Kontaveit, Sloane Stephens has downed them all, easily.


While the tenth-seeded American’s nearly unstoppable showing may strike fear into Halep, the Romanian has been impressive as well this fortnight, showing her improved mental toughness, relentless defense, and tiring consistency to wear down and edge out some very talented opponents as well. From the fighting spirit shown after a disastrous start against Angelique Kerber to the masterclass in consistency and precision summoned to beat 2016 winner Garbiñe Muguruza, Halep has displayed and executed all the necessary traits to triumph on the tough surface that is the Parisian terre battue.


With an incredible opportunity on the line to hoist a trophy both women have no doubt dreamed of and come close to prior, the occasion will require nerves of steel and the confidence to back themselves, something both will surely have. Stephens has the peace of mind having won a major already, owning the big match experience. Halep will have to strike the mental balance between being calm and collected and also backing herself to be aggressive in the biggest moments.


While Stephens has been the most impressive player of the tournament with her ability to defend, defuse, and attack, dominating opponents left and right, Halep owns the desire and mental strength to be resilient and seize the crown more. Throughout this trying and challenging two weeks in Paris, Halep has showed the world the strides she has made and all the qualities of a French Open champion. Now, she must show it to Stephens and more importantly to herself, to finally conquer Paris and the biggest, grandest title of her career: Grand Slam champion.


Prediction: Halep in three sets

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