World #1 and French Open champion Simona Halep and Sloane Stephens, the world #3 and US Open champion, meet in Montreal to decide the Canadian Open. Halep has had a largely excellent season, highlighted by her French Open victory, and will consider herself amongst the favourites in New York. But Stephens has had some fine moments herself and showed last year that she unquestionably has a New York state of mind. But who will come out on top?
Stephens and Halep have met eight times so far in a head-to-head the Romanian leads 6-2. After winning their first match in Barcelona 6-4 6-4 six years ago, Halep took back-to-back straight sets losses to Stephens in Hobart and Melbourne in 2013. But since then, Halep has recorded five wins on the bounce, including in Washington and Cincinnati last year on similar courts. In their last match, Halep defeated Stephens to lift the French Open 3-6 6-4 6-1.
Path to the final
Halep, the top seed, began her Montreal campaign after a bye against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. It proved a real battle, but one from which Halep eventually emerged a 7-6 4-6 7-5 victor. Due to rain delays, she then had to return that same day to play Venus Williams, also pulling double duty, who she beat 6-2 6-2. Halep then accounted for world #6 Caroline Garcia in straight sets 7-5 6-1 before reaching the final with a 6-4 6-1 win over Ashleigh Barty.
Stephens, who also received a bye, opened in Montreal with a dominant 6-0 6-2 win over Canadian wildcard Francoise Abanda. She followed that by defeating former world #6 Carla Suarez Navarro 7-5 6-2 in the third round and Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova 6-2 6-2 in the quarterfinals. That set up a semifinal clash with Elina Svitolina, the 2017 champion from Ukraine. But Stephens brought Svitolina’s title defence to a swift conclusion with a 6-3 6-3 victory.
How do they match up?
Looking at their head-to-head over the past four years, it is clear that Halep has not been a particularly comfortable matchup for Stephens. Although she was still working her way back from injury in Washington and Cincinnati last year, the manner of the losses in conditions very similar to those in Canada will be a concern for the world #3. In Paris, Stephens was able to win the first set by playing aggressively and red-lining her game.
But she couldn’t sustain the effort. As the match wore on she started to miss more off the ground and returned to a less aggressive style. That proved costly as there are almost no players more consistent from the baseline than Halep and when given time she has the tools to go on the attack, with her forehand her best shot in that regard. Stephens will have to find the right balance of aggression and control to keep Halep on the backfoot without giving up too many errors.
Both women come into this match having played some great tennis all week. Halep’s performance against Garcia, for example, was incredible given the circumstances, whilst Stephens’ dismantling of Svitolina was fearsome in its quality. But what should give the world #1 the edge going into this one is the advantage she has in the matchup. Halep has the winning touch against Stephens and she will continue that good run to claim her second title in Canada.