Maria Sharapova is in line for a fifth Slam. Image courtesy of belfasttelegraph.co.uk
It is a battle of the tried and tested Grand Slam veteran against a new kid on the block, when Maria Sharapova faces Simona Halep in the French Open Final.
If Sharapova wins, it will be her fifth Grand Slam title, moving her into a tie with Martina Hingis for 11th on the list of most major wins of the Open era. At 27, the tall Russian can continue to compete at the top for quite some time and if she can get to seven Slams, she'd be alongside the likes of Evonne Goolagong, Venus Williams and Justine Henin.
Incredibly Sharapova's record on clay over the past three seasons is 54-4, with a winning percentage almost the equal of the 'king of clay' Rafael Nadal. One of her four majors came at Roland Garros in 2012 and as the defending champion she was dethroned by Serena Williams in a three-set final last year.
If those stats are not impressive enough, the former number one has handled Halep in all four of their previous meetings.
But she won't get it all her own way, Simona Halep has improved in leaps and bounds in the past ten months, climbing steadily up the rankings to number 4 in the world. As of late August, she hadn't made it past the third round of a major or into the top 20. At the start of 2013, the Romanian didn't have a WTA tournament trophy in her cabinet. Now the 22-year-old is a Grand Slam finalist and the winner of seven titles.
In Halep's favour, of the 42 women to win a Grand Slam since 1968, Roland Garros has been the most frequent site of inaugural victories. And more than half of the 23 players who broke their major ducks on the red clay in Paris went on to win another Slam. If Halep wins in straight sets, she'd be the first women's winner since Justine Henin in 2007 to take the title without dropping a set.
However, most believe this encounter will go the distance. There hasn’t been a three-set final at Roland Garros since Jennifer Capriati defeated Kim Clijsters in a 12-10 epic decider in 2001. That’s still the longest third-set Grand Slam final of the Open era. The bad news for the Slam rookie (Halep), if it goes to a decider, Sharapova has won 19 straight three-set matches, including three straight at the French after dropping the first set.