Surprise package Jelena Ostapenko is into her first ever Grand Slam final – she takes on the more experienced Simona Halep.
Jelena Ostapenko [No.47] vs (3) Simona Halep [No.4]
Overview: It’s shocking how Jelena Ostapenko is into her first Grand Slam final, isn’t it? The World No.47 is the first Latvian woman to reach a Slam final in the Open Era, and this is the first time an unseeded player has reached the Roland Garros final in 34 years. Her level has been increasing every match so far; starting with a shaky performance against Louisa Chirico in which she had to come back from a set down, (which saw her hit 55 winners!) she started to play better tennis with wins over Monica Puig and Lesia Tsurenko. Her fighting mentalities shone through in the next few matches as she overcame Samantha Stosur (who was also struggling with some hand injury?), Caroline Wozniacki and Timea Bacsinszky. Ostapenko was able to dictate play extremely well against Wozniacki and Bacsinszky; the only things the two players were able to do was to get one more ball back into play. In Ostapenko matches, the outcome of the match is usually on her racquet; she can produce tons of winners but many unforced errors at the same time. She doesn’t have margin for error at all and that can be a double edged sword for the Latvian.
Simona Halep came into the French Open with a worrisome ankle injury. It has seemed to help her however as she has been slightly under the radar and it has lowered the pressure of the Romanian. With a semifinal appearance in Stuttgart, a title in Madrid and a final in Rome, the brilliant results have continued, largely cruising through her first four matches over Jana Cepelova, Tatjana Maria, Daria Kasatkina (who was set points away from forcing a decider) and Carla Suarez Navarro. The biggest test of Halep’s campaign came against another title favourite, Elina Svitolina, where she was down 3-6 1-5 to the Ukrainian. However the World No.4 showed her renewed mental toughness at that point, winning five straight games to force a tiebreaker. Svitolina managed to come up with a match point opportunity, but Halep played a fantastic point to save it (see below) and convert her fifth set point chance.
From then on, Halep cruised through the match, inflicting a bagel on Svitolina. However more difficulties came in the form of World No.3 Karolina Pliskova, who was aiming to become No.1 with the win. Playing composed and aggressive tennis at the right time, Halep produced a clean display, hitting 14 winners to 14 unforced errors, while Pliskova hit a wild 55 unforced errors to 45 winners. That was largely the story as Halep booked her spot into her second Slam final after a three-set victory.
Head to head: These two have not played before, but I would like to make some references: Ostapenko plays somewhat like Pliskova and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, making many winners yet many unforced errors too. Halep has struggled some times against Lucic-Baroni, but her win over Pliskova was pretty clutch, moving the Czech around the court.
Stat: With the win, Halep will climb to World No.1 for the first time ever. If Ostapenko wins…
Thoughts: Halep will need to produce a similar display to her win over Pliskova – dictate play at the right time, and move Ostapenko around the court to not let her play aggressively. Drop shots and high loopy balls will also help Halep to disturb Ostapenko’s rhythm, which Bacsinszky also did. The Romanian will try to take advantage of the Ostapenko serve, especially the second delivery as it can be shaky at times. Ostapenko will probably try to dictate play and hit winners around the court as usual, however she is facing one of the best counter-punchers in the world. This being Ostapenko’s first Slam final, I would guess a little nerves would creep up and Halep’s experience should shine through.