French Open 2017

Halep eyes no. 1 Ranking as Ostapenko threat looms

Romanian favoured to win first Grand Slam against hard-hitting Latvian, a 100-1 outsider

PARIS • Simona Halep is targeting the world No. 1 ranking in today's French Open women's singles final, but fast-rising Latvian upstart Jelena Ostapenko threatens to crash the Romanian's party as a first-time Major champion will be crowned.

The favourite takes on the 100-1 outsider and her defence will be tested by the 20-year-old's lethal offence.

Ostapenko has hit an astounding 245 winners en route to the title decider - the most of any player, man or woman - at Roland Garros this year, reported the tournament's official website.

Her forehand has been clocked faster than that of men's world No. 1 Andy Murray - and it is not even her preferred shot.

"My forehand? Normally, no, my backhand is my favourite shot," she said after a barrage of 50 winners against Swiss Timea Bacsinszky in the semi-finals. "But I was working on the forehand and I think it's pretty good now."

It is just as well for Halep then that she had to chase down the flat, powerful strokes of Karolina Pliskova in her semi-final.

"I think I would have beaten 99 per cent of the girls with the tennis I was playing today, so it was just unlucky that it was Simona today," said the Czech. "I think she's one of the best on clay."

POSING A FORMIDABLE THREAT

My game is stronger, and it's different. I think more about the game, and I play smarter, in my opinion, and also physically.

'' SIMONA HALEP, who lost the 2014 French Open final to Maria Sharapova, on why she rates herself more highly this year.

Halep will be the best in the world - according to rankings - if she wins today, supplanting Germany's Angelique Kerber at the top.

"It's a big challenge, a big chance. I think I have the game. I have the mentality to win, but it's going to be tough," said the 25-year-old, who lost to Maria Sharapova in three sets in the 2014 French Open final.

"I learnt many things during the years, not just after that final.

"My game is stronger, and it's different. I think more about the game, and I play smarter, in my opinion, and also physically.

"I'm much better, stronger. Attitude better. I think I'm a different player, and I'm much stronger than 2014."

Ostapenko can make history today too. She is one win from becoming the first player since Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten in 1997 to win their maiden Tour-level title at a Grand Slam.

It would complete a remarkable run, given her third-round exit at this year's Australian Open represented her best previous performance in a major tournament.

"When I came here, of course I didn't expect I would be in the final," said the world No. 47. "Then every match I was playing better and better and I got my confidence."

Not bad for someone who chose tennis over ballroom dancing despite training in the latter for seven years.

Her first meeting with Halep promises to be some tango.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'Halep eyes no. 1 Ranking as Ostapenko threat looms'. Print Edition | Subscribe