French Open Women's Final Preview: Sloane Stephens vs. Simona Halep

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Sloane Stephens will try to win her second Grand Slam title in less than a year; Simona Halep will try to win her first Grand Slam title in four finals. (AP)

Simona Halep [1] vs. Sloane Stephens [10]

PARIS—While this match pits the No. 1 seed vs the No. 10 seed, it’s an exceedingly difficult one to call. Each point favoring one player can be countered with a point favoring the other.

Their head-to-head history clearly favors Halep. She leads 5-2, and has won their last four meetings. Stephens’ only two wins came over the course of one month at the beginning of 2013 in Australia. On the other hand, Halep’s two most recent victories came last summer, when Stephens was in the process of coming back from surgery, and hadn’t yet found the form that would take her to the US Open title. 

Their record in tournament finals favors Stephens. She’s 6-0 in them, and she won her only major final at the Open last year. Asked what is it about finals that she likes, Stephens said that “once I get going in a tournament, I’m pretty consistent.”

Sloane Stephens, after her semifinal win over Madison Keys:

That has certainly been true over her last three matches in Paris, all of them straight-set, no-sweat wins. Halep, by contrast, has a mixed record in finals. She has played a lot more of them—she’s 16-14 overall—but experience doesn’t seem to have helped lately. Over the last 12 months, she has lost finals in Paris, Cincinnati, Beijing, Melbourne and Rome; her one final-round win during that time came in a smaller tournament in Shenzhen. Getting tight at the finish line has become an unfortunate habit with Halep.

Then there’s the dynamic of their matchup, which is a tricky one that could play out in a number of different ways. Both end up playing a lot of defense, but both have the tools to attack. The question for each of them on Saturday will be: Does it pay to take on the burden of being aggressive?

Halep will likely be the one to pay that price; despite her modest size, she’s a creative player with a proactive mindset. Stephens, by contrast, has that famous “easy power” when she wants it, but what she mostly wants to do is react and counterpunch. The rallies could play out in a variety of ways, and may change from set to set, but I’m guessing they’ll come to down to whether Halep’s offense can break down Stephens’ defense.

“I have to just play like I did yesterday,” Halep said, referring to her successfully aggressive performance against Garbiñe Muguruza in the semifinals.

Sounds like a snap, right? Pulling it off when the stakes are this big may come down to whether Halep, if she builds a lead, can hold her nerve and ignore her close losses in the French Open final last year, and the Australian Open final this year. Sloane might be the last player she wants to face in that situation.

Winner: Stephens

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