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Halep, Sharapova offer sharp contrast in French Open final

Text by Peter BERLIN

Latest update : 2014-06-07

The women's final at the French Open on Saturday matches one of the most recognisable stars of the game, Russia's Maria Sharapova, against a woman who had never made it past the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam before this week, Simona Halep.

All the statistics favour Sharapova. The most obvious difference is that the Russian is 20 centimeters taller than the Romanian.

Sharapova is far more experienced. She is only 27 yet she won her first major title, the US Open, a decade ago. Today marke her ninth Grand Slam title match.

Sharapova has won all three of her previous meetings with Halep. The most recent of those was on clay in the final of the Madrid tournament last month.

Yet Sharapova's play in that match, and on her way to today's final, have provided reminders that her career has been one of wild mood swings, often in the course of a single match, or set, or game. In Madrid, she won just one game in the first set before fighting back to win the match.

At the French Open, she had a fabulous stroke of fortune when the one woman she cannot defeat, Serena Williams, was knocked out by Garbine Muguruza.

Sharapova, however, has seemed tentative about grabbing her chance. She dropped the first set in each of her last three matches before fighting back three times to win. In the last set of the semifinal against Eugenie Bouchard, her serve disintegrated. It was almost painful to watch.

Yet Sharapova found a way to win the set comfortably. She showed the mental strength to overcome tough opponents and, for Sharapova, the toughest opponent is often herself.

'Cow on ice'

Early in her career, she said that on clay she resembled a "cow on ice". But this is her third consecutive French Open final, a turnaround that proves how determined she is in the face of adversity.

In the 10 years since her title win in New York, Sharapova has won all the other Grand Slams - but she has won them all just once. She has spent her career as a supporting player, overshadowed by the greatness of the Williams sisters, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters.

The diminutive Halep, hard-hitting and mobile, has often been compared to Clijsters, though this week Clijsters herself and Virginia Ruzicki, the only Romanian woman to win the French Open, compared Halep to Novak Djokovic. Ruzicki said Halep's two-fisted backhand reminded her of the men's second-seeded Serb star.

Ruzicki told the Roland Garros website that Halep had been nervous during the tournament, but it hasn't shown on court. Halep has not dropped a set. The only one that was close was the second set in the semifinal, when she was too strong for Andrea Petkovic in the tiebreak.

So far, the inexperienced Romanian 'youngster' has looked more in control than the experienced Russian veteran she's set to meet in today's final.

Follow the final on France24's live blog, beginning at 14:45 Paris time.

Date created : 2014-06-07

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