Sloane Stephens could cause grief for Grand Slam seeker Halep
Top-level struggles could continue for world number one
Sloane Stephens v Simona Halep
ITV & Eurosport 1, 2pm Saturday
Sloane Stephens is worth backing to make life difficult for Simona Halep when the pair clash in the final of the French Open women's singles in Paris.
Halep will be under considerable pressure to notch an elusive maiden Grand Slam crown after coming up short in her first three finals.
The Romanian had little answer to Jelena Ostapenko in last year's Roland Garros final once the Latvian got going and things may be no easier for her against US Open champion Stephens.
Halep, 26, was a set and 3-0 up against Ostapenko on the final Saturday in Paris last year before being overwhelmed by an onslaught of winners from her opponent. Inexperience also cost Halep in the 2014 French Open final against Maria Sharapova.
The popular Romanian deserves credit for sticking to her guns and Halep has made it two finals in as many Slams this year after reaching the Australian Open final in January.
But it was a similar story five months ago as Halep lost a closely-fought battle to Caroline Wozniacki in the title-decider.
On a more positive note for Halep, she has won her last four meetings with Stephens. Her second victory in their personal series came on the Paris clay in 2014 when she triumphed 6-4 6-3, but both players have improved a great deal since that clash.
It could pay to ignore Halep's two wins over Stephens last year because the American was clawing her way back after major left foot surgery in the lead-up to her stunning New York victory.
Halep, bidding to become only the second Romanian woman to win a Slam title after Virginia Ruzici's Roland Garros victory in 1978, has to be the favourite by virtue of the fact that she's the world number one and playing on what is almost certainly her favourite surface. She has won six titles on clay compared to Stephens' one.
The fact that Halep is playing the Flushing Meadows champion in the final could help her focus. Garbine Muguruza's lateral movement in her 6-1 6-4 semi-final loss to the top seed was not great, but the tall Spaniard may be more prone to committing unforced errors under pressure than Stephens.
The tenth seed will next week become the first American other than sisters Serena and Venus Williams to break into the top five in the WTA rankings since Lindsay Davenport.
Stephens, 25, has been tested by just two opponents in Paris in the last fortnight – Madison Keys, who Davenport coaches, in the semi-finals and Camila Giorgi, who had match points to win their third-round encounter.
But while Stephens' unforced errors count was unusually high (26) against Giorgi, she played defensively against Keys, waiting for her opponent to make the lion's share of mistakes.
Keeping down the unforced errors could also help Stephens' cause against Halep. Considering the top seed's Grand Slam final record and the fact that she's up against a natural winner on court, Stephens, whose win-loss record in singles finals is 6-0, looks worth supporting.
She is 8-11 to win at least a set, which could enter calculations given that she has dropped only one set in the competition. But the American can also be backed with a handicap start of 4.5 games, which may be the way to go given that the tournament stats of the two counter-punching final opponents are strikingly similar.
S Stephens + 4.5 games
1pt 8-11 Coral
World Cup quizzes
Follow us on Twitter @racingpostsport
Like us on Facebook RacingPostSport