French Open 2014, women's final preview: Maria Sharapova v Simon Halep
Last Updated: 07/06/14 8:27am
Maria Sharapova takes on Simona Halep in the final of the French Open women’s singles on Saturday as odds-on favourite to win her fifth Grand Slam title.
But it could be a close-run thing, and Sharapova will need all her experience against Halep, 22, who is the first player to reach her first Grand Slam final without dropping a set since Martina Hingis in 1997.
Halep goes into the final as the form player not just in Paris, but in the last 12 months on the WTA tour.
She was dumped out in the first round in Paris last year, but since then has won seven WTA titles.
The 22-year-old, the fourth seed, has however never beaten Sharapova. She has lost all three of their previous meetings, the most recent of which was a thriller in the Madrid Open final, when Sharapova fought back from a set down to win in three.
But Halep - who will rise to number three in the world rankings on Monday regardless of the result - is quietly confident of achieving the victory that will finally make her a household name.
"It's incredible to be in the final here in Paris," she said. "I have a lot of confidence in myself now, I played really good here, but the next round with Maria will be really tough. She's a great champion.
"I have nothing to lose. I will keep this in my mind always. I will try to hit very relaxed. I know that it will be very tough to manage the emotions, but I will try my best at that moment. I don't know how I have to play to beat Maria. But I have to take that revenge. I will fight for this one."
Halep has an all-action style. She has a strong serve, hits hard and deep off both flanks and she has proved she is highly adaptable tactically. Her tactics against Sharapova could be key to her chances and on that front she will be advised by her compatriot Virginia Ruzici, who won the title back in 1978.
Sharapova knows what it takes to win the French Open, having triumphed in 2012. She missed much of last season with a shoulder injury and has taken time to get back to her best. She has never been entirely comfortable on clay either, famously describing herself as a “cow on ice” a few years ago.
She has had to scrap hard just to reach the final this year – her last three matches all went to three sets. But her record on the clay this season is an impressive 18-1, with tournament victories in Madrid and Stuttgart, her only defeat coming against Ana Ivanovic in Rome last month.
She has already beaten two of the next generation of stars on the way to the final - Spain's Garbine Muguruza in the quarter-finals and Eugenie Bouchard of Canada in the semis - on both occasions losing the first set.
"I'm very proud, because I worked hard to get myself injury free, and I had to work through some tough losses in the beginning of the season that I didn't want to accept," she said.
"I worked through them, I worked hard, and I'm in this position giving myself a chance. I played two very young girls that have been playing extremely well and have had a great tournament.
"Do I want to give them the chance to go further in the tournament? Absolutely not. But not because I want to prove something or show them that they're not the next generation. They're playing great tennis."