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French Open 2014: Can Halep spoil Sharapova's story?

Maria Sharapova's form has improved this autumn
by Leigh Walsh
Saturday 7 June 2014

Wimbledon.com previews the women's singles final at the 2014 French Open at Roland Garros...

Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep both swing a racket for a living. That’s where the similarities between the French Open finalists begin and end.

There’s Sharapova: a four-time Grand Slam winner who is set to appear in her ninth major final and third in a row in Paris. The six foot two Russian is a power player. She overwhelms opponents with exceptional pace off both wings and when allowed to dictate from the baseline there is little anyone can do to thwart her.

The 2012 champion has that rare ability to notch wins when not at her best, a common theme on her road to the final which has seen her come from a set down to win on three separate occasions. At times it may not be pretty, but Sharapova is a master in the art of winning. The 27 year old summed it up best after her semi-final victory over Eugenie Bouchard when she said, “It’s not how you finish a first set. It's how you finish the last.”

Then there’s Halep: a first-time Grand Slam finalist bidding to become Romania’s first major champion since her manager Virginia Ruzici won the French in 1978.

If Sharapova is an offensive aggressor, then Halep is a defensive aggressor. The five foot six right-hander toys with her opponents. Not beating them through sheer power but by clever point construction and ball placement. She plays close to the baseline to limit her opponents’ time, tugging them back and forth by giving every patch of the court its equal share of attention with the ball.

Her movement is effortless. Where Sharapova plods, Halep glides and the Romanian will be hoping to keep her Russian opponent out of her comfort zone and off balance in Saturday’s final.

When the pair met in the Rome final last month Halep did just that as she took the first set 6-1. But then Sharapova began to find her rhythm and did what she’s now done eight times this year – found a way to win after dropping the opening set.

Sharapova has won all three of her encounters with Halep and she’ll go into the final as favourite. But the experienced 27 year old doesn’t do complacency. “I'm in a Grand Slam final,” she said. “No matter who is across the net, it’s a great opportunity for the both of us. I'll be there until the very last point.”

Halep won’t mind bearing the underdog tag either. She’s been wearing it for most of her professional career. This time last year she sat at No. 57 in the world rankings after exiting Roland Garros in the first round. She had also never won a professional title.

Fast forward 12 months and Halep has now lifted seven singles trophies, enough to fill a cabinet that once lay bare. She is also on the cusp of rising to a career-high No. 3 in the world, just rewards for her remarkable consistency.   

“I have nothing to lose. I will keep this in my mind always and try to hit very relaxed,” said the No. 4 seed, who became the first player since Lindsay Davenport at the 1998 US Open to reach her first major final without dropping a set.

“I cannot say how I will feel Saturday," she added. "I don't know how it is to play in the final of a Grand Slam. But I have to be happy and just enjoy [it].”

Will Sharapova add another major title for the decorated tour veterans or can Halep strike a blow for the younger generation? At 22, the Romanian is looking to join Petra Kvitova as just the second player born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam title.

Whomever the winner, the women’s draw deserves a competitive final befitting of the high quality of play on show over the past 12 days. Court Philippe Chatrier hasn’t witnessed a three-set women’s final since Jennifer Capriati defeated Kim Clijsters 12-10 in the decider 13 years ago.

A classic is due. And this could be it. 


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20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...

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