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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Halep may receive a stern final test from talented Ostapenko

Powerful young Latvian could prove a handful for favourite

Jelena Ostapenko is capable of causing problems for Simona Halep
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Women's singles final
ITV & Eurosport 1, 2pm Saturday

Bookmakers reckon Simona Halep will claim her first Grand Slam title with a French Open final triumph, but her opponent Jelena Ostapenko is such a raw talent that victory may not come as easily as oddsmakers expect.

Ostapenko, who is coached by one-time clay stalwart Anabel Medina Garrigues, defeated Timea Bacsinszky 7-6 3-6 6-3 in the semi-final on her birthday on Thursday – the Philippe Chatrier court crown sang Joyeux Anniversaire to the Latvian, who was turning 20.

But the final, against a player who has been the best on clay this season in the absence of the pregnant Serena Williams, is likely to be tougher again.

Ostapenko, who had never won a match at Roland Garros before last week, is one victory away from becoming the first unseeded player in the professional era to win the French Open women's singles and the first Grand Slam champion from her country.

There is hope for the 150-1 ante-post shot, though. Her tally of winners stands at 245, which is 81 more than anyone else in the 128-player draw and more than twice as many as Halep.

Ostapenko's booming ground­strokes makes for high unforced error counts but plenty of winners too. She is feisty, fearless and not afraid to go for her shots, admirable qualities which help to explain why she has progressed so far in the season's second Slam.

Romanian Halep, guided by Australian coaching legend Darren Cahill, will become world number one if she lifts the trophy, while her opponent is playing for the first title of her career.

Gustavo Kuerten, who won three Roland Garros singles crowns, was the last player to open his account on the Paris clay. Amazingly, the first of his triumphs came on the day Ostapenko was born.

The resilient Halep, managed by Virginia Ruzici, the only Romanian woman to have won a Slam at the French Open in 1978, was hampered by an ankle ligament injury during her preparations for Roland Garros. Her doctors gave her a 50-50 chance of playing in Paris, but Halep never considered missing the tournament.

Second seed Karolina Pliskova, beaten 6-4 3-6 6-3 by Halep in the last four, said: "Simona is getting everything back. She reads the game well and moves well so it’s tough to hit winners against her. I would have seen off most rivals the way I played, but unfortunately I was up against Simona."

Halep's defensive skills make her tough to beat on clay, but she had to survive a match point before fighting back to defeat Rome champion Elina Svitolina in the last eight so isn't invincible.

The 11-2 ante-post title favourite also tends to lose focus during her matches, which could afford the aggressive Osta­penko the chance to hit more court lines.

After her defeat Bacsinszky admitted: "Jelena played better and deserved to win. She was more courageous on the day."

Bookmakers agree on a total games over/under line of 20.5, while Ostapenko gets a start of 4.5 games on the handicaps.

Halep will hope to deal with Osta­penko as easily as she handled 20-year-old Russian Daria Kasatkina, who she beat 6-0 7-5 in round three. But given the importance of this occasion, it may not be as simple for the favourite as many believe and there may be value in backing the clash to go to a deciding set.

Three-set match
1pt 15-8 Betfair, Paddy Power

Ostapenko's tally of winners stands at 245, which is 81 more than anyone else in the 128-player draw and more than twice as many as Halep
E.W. Terms
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