At the beginning of the French Open there were one hundred and twenty-eight players in the women’s draw bidding for the prestigious Suzanne Lenglen Cup. Even before the official draw, there was buzz about the women’s tournament as many described it as wide open. With the absence of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka who own a combined 30 grand slams and have won 14 of the last 21, one could see how this tournament was an opportunity for every woman in the draw. From day one, players battled it out smacking forehands and backhands on the famous red clay of Roland Garros, all in hopes of having the opportunity to punch their ticket into the championship round. The upsets began as early as the first round as we saw world number one Angelique Kerber make an early exit, being dismissed by the Russian Ekaterina Makarova. The following round, 6th seed Dominika Cibulkova was sent home by the debutant, Ons Jabeur who was ranked 114th in the world. As day turned into night, round after round, we witnessed the departure of the remaining women until we were left with our two finalists: the 2nd seed Simona Halep and to everyone’s surprise, the unseeded Latvian Jelena Ostapenko. The buzz of opportunity proved to be correct as both Halep and Ostapenko have yet to win a grand slam title; that will soon change after Saturday’s championship match where a new grand slam champion is guaranteed.
How Did They Get Here?
Their journey to the championship round has been as different as their playing styles. The Romanian Simona Halep arrived in Paris with her first title of the season in Madrid, a finals showing in Rome, and a lingering ankle injury. With all eyes on the ankle injury, Halep began the tournament with an impressive first round win over Jana Cepelova who had previously defeated Halep at Wimbledon in 2015. As she progressed through the draw, Halep’s confidence was growing and it was apparent by her fourth round beatdown of the 21st seed, Carla Suarez Navarro, posting a 6-1, 6-1 win. Halep marched confidently into the quarterfinals without dropping a set and having only surrendered 19 games. Not Nadal level stats, but still pretty impressive. It was finally in the quarterfinals where Halep dropped her first set to the 5th seed Elina Svitolina and found herself down 1-5 in the second set. In the past, Halep would let her negative emotions take over, but this time she didn’t panic. Instead, she stormed back in the second set and saved a match point along the way before closing out the second set and finally the match with a 3-6, 7-6, 6-0 score. Her semifinal encounter with the 2nd seed Karolina Pliskova was more of the same, but again it was the new and improved attitude of Halep that pushed her to a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win and a spot in the final.
The then 19 year old Jelena Ostapenko made her way to the final by surprising the tennis world and herself. Ostapenko came into this tournament ranked 47th in the world, with no titles to her name, and never having progressed past the 3rd round of a slam. None of that mattered as she made her way through the first week posting wins over Louisa Chirico, gold medalist Monica Puig, and Lesia Tsurenko. It was her impressive fourth round win over former finalist and 23rd seed Samantha Stosur that finally put Ostapenko on the radar. In the quarterfinals against the 11th seed Caroline Wozniacki, Ostapenko continued to pound the ball with her powerful strokes, and fearless attitude to shock Wozniacki with a hard fought 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 win. As her game looked to be maturing, so did Ostapenko as she was celebrating her 20th birthday during her semifinal match against the 30th seed and fellow birthday girl Timea Bacsinszky. Ostapenko’s power and composure proved too much for Bacsinszky as Ostapenko became the first woman from Latvia, or man for that matter, to reach a grand slam final with a 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 win.
Who Will Win?
By having reached the final, both women have already made history. Jelena Ostapenko is the first unseeded woman to reach the Roland Garros final since 1983 and first Latvian woman to reach a grand slam final. Halep will have the opportunity to become the first Romanian woman to reach world number one by winning it all. On paper, Halep is the obvious favorite as she is the higher ranked player and she has the experience to rely on as a former finalist here in 2014. Make no mistake though, it would be foolish to overlook Ostapenko’s fearless attitude and dangerous game. Ostapenko’s ‘nothing to lose’ attitude should win her a set, but Halep will be difficult to stop. Halep will have to stand her ground, redirect Ostapenko’s powerful shots, and hold her composure to win. Look for Halep to become world number one and lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup on Saturday after a memorable three-set win.