The match that will decide the 2018 Roland Garros champion has arrived and it pits world #1 and two-time former finalist Simona Halep against US Open champion Sloane Stephens. For Halep, to win here would be to finally the end of years of hurt she has suffered at the Slams, particularly at Roland Garros where she has come so close, and yet never managed to take that final step. But Stephens has no shortage of ambitions herself. Who will come out on top?
Halep and Stephens have met seven times over the course of their careers in a head-to-head that the Romanian leads five matches to two. Their first match came in 2012 on the clay courts in Barcelona with Halep winning 6-2 6-2. In 2013, Stephens scored back-to-back victories in Australia in Hobart and Melbourne, not dropping a set at either event in dominant wins. Since then, however, Halep has been dominant.
In 2014, in their only previous meeting at Roland Garros, Halep defeated the American 6-4 6-3 in the round of 16. She scored another victory a year later in the Miami Open quarterfinals, winning 6-1 7-5. They also met twice last year during the North American hard court swing. Their first match there came in Washington with Halep winning 7-6 6-0 in the round of 32 before she defeated Stephens again in the Cincinnati final 6-2 6-1, though she herself took a bruising loss to Muguruza in the final.
Path to the final
Halep’s French Open campaign got off to a rocky start as she dropped the first set of her opening match to Alison Riske. But the Romanian swiftly turned it around, progressing a 2-6 6-1 6-1 winner. That was followed by straight sets wins against Taylor Townsend and Andrea Petkovic to send her into the fourth round. There she dismissed Elise Mertens 6-1 6-2 before battling back from a set down to oust Angelique Kerber 6-7 6-3 6-2. She then delivered one of her best performances of the year to beat Muguruza 6-1 6-4 and reach the final.
Stephens’ French Open campaign began in dominant fashion with a 6-0 6-2 win against Arantxa Rus followed by a 6-2 6-2 defeat of Magdalena Frech. But in the third round, Stephens came close to an early exit, having to find her very best tennis to beat a spirited Camila Giorgi 4-6 6-1 8-6. But she was untroubled in brushing aside Anett Kontaveit 6-0 6-2 and Daria Kasatkina 6-3 6-1. Stephens then delivered a fine performance to defeat her friend and compatriot Madison Keys 6-4 6-4.
How do they match up?
Both Halep and Stephens seem emblematic of the modern tennis player. Both are excellent movers, able to reach balls no one would have a decade ago and then use the ball well when they get there. Both are also comfortable stepping into the court to dictate as well and are equipped with powerful forehands to do so. Stephens is the better server of the two, but Halep returns better, meaning that it should be a fairly even battle when both step to the line.
There can be no doubt that Halep is the better clay courter of the two. Indeed, the Romanian could probably fairly claim to be the best clay courter in the women’s game. If she can find the sort of tennis she is capable of, then she will win this match. Yet she has struggled to overcome the mental hurdle in the past, and unlike Stephens she doesn’t have experience of getting over the line in a Slam final. Equally though, she looked to have made real progress in Melbourne, and for that reason, this will be the year Halep has her long-awaited, and richly deserved, triumph.