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Simona Halep can finally end her wait for a Grand Slam title when she meets Sloane Stephens in the 2018 French Open Women’s final at Roland-Garros on Saturday.
A major title is all Halep needs to add credibility to her world No. 1 ranking. The Romanian has always had the talent, but she has consistently found the pressure of big occasions tough to overcome.
By contrast, Stephens knows what it takes to win a Grand Slam after claiming the 2017 U.S. Open title. Stephens beat Madison Keys a year ago and overcame the same opponent in the semi-final at Roland-Garros, while Halep dominated 2016 French Open winner Garbine Muguruza in the previous round.
Whoever wins this year will be due €2.2 million (1.93 million) in prize money. Meanwhile, the runner-up will pocket £984,765.
Here are the schedule details for the final:
Date: Saturday, June 9
Time: 2 p.m. BST, 9 a.m. ET
TV Info: Eurosport 1, ITV 1, NBC
Halep has history on her side, at least in terms of her previous meetings with Stephens:
WTA Insider @WTA_insider
On Saturday, Sloane Stephens will be looking to snap a 4-match losing streak to Simona Halep. Has not won a set off the Romanian since 2013 when Halep was ranked below her at No.45. Halep has won their two clay meetings. #RG18 https://t.co/qKJgjU8RSZ
The record should give her confidence and offset any nerves from losing thee Grand Slam finals. For her part, Halep has said she “will stay chilled,” per Omnisport (h/t Yahoo Sport UK).
Staying calm won’t be easy against Stephens, who is tenacious enough to unsettle anybody. The 25-year-old has won her last six finals and is more proactive than Halep, according to ESPN.com’s Peter Bodo:
“Stephens is the more explosive player, better capable of transitioning from defense to offense (a significant virtue in today’s game). Halep, on the other hand, is more patient and better at getting back that extra ball. Stephens is more likely to go for the killing shot, while Halep is more persistent.”
Taking Halep out of her comfort zone by setting a pace more frenetic than her methodical opponent is used to will be vital for Stephens. However, Halep is world No. 1 for a reason.
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Her game has become increasingly refined in recent years, particularly on clay. Her cagey, defense-led style suits the red surface in Paris well.
Playing Stephens and her generally similar approach will also suit Halep. One year ago, she struggled to contain a fierce charge from Jelena Ostapenko, but she should find Stephens more accommodating.
If Stephens can’t up the pace enough, Halep will grow into the match and begin to exert her typically steady control. Stephens is likely to take the first set while nerves and past failures still naturally play on Halep’s mind, but the latter will finally reverse her Grand Slam fortunes.
Prediction: Halep wins 4-6, 6-4, 6-2