Saturday, June 10, 2017

2017 FRENCH OPEN: Women's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) vs. Simona Halep (ROU) [3] 
Here are my predictions for the women's final at the 2017 French Open. Last year I incorrectly predicted Serena Williams would beat Garbine Muguruza in the women's final and correctly predicted Novak Djokovic would beat Andy Murray in the men's finalThis year I correctly predicted 1 of 2 women's semifinals, 2 of 2 men's semifinals3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals. 

Below is my review of the women's semifinals and my preview of the women's final.

Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) d. Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) [30] 7-6(4) 3-6 6-3.  The birthday bash between the two birthday girls was won by the younger player, to my surprise. Ostapenko, who turned 20 years old on Thursday, has now hit 245 winners in 6 matches, which is more than any of the male remaining players in the draw.  She outlasted her more experienced and 8-years-older former doubles partner to reach her very first major final, the lowest ranked player to do so in well over thirty years. This was a surprise because the young Latvian was playing in her very first major semifinal while the 28-year-old Swiss player was in her 2nd major semifinal at Roland Garros. It was expected that Bacsinszky would figure out a way to win this match, and she did do well to win the second set and at least make it a match instead of a mismatch. In the end, though, Ostapenko's power was too much for Bacsinszky to handle.

Simona Halep (ROU) [3] dKarolina Pliskova (CZE) [2] 6-4 3-6 6-3. This was a contest with the World #1 ranking at stake. Pliskova needed to win to become World #1, while Halep needs to win this match and the final in order to claim the top spot in women's tennis. Halep demonstrated what an advantage her movement and defensive prowess gives her over one of the hardest hitters on the tour who is most definitely NOT one of its best movers. In fact, Halep has a pretty good record (13-3) against other Big Babes like Madison Keys, Petra Kvitova and Pliskova. The Czech player did well to sneak out a break and a hold to snatch the second set but Halep displayed her newly developed mental toughness and just continued her astounding ball retrieving to force Pliskova to go for another line and eventually hit another error (attempted winner) and lose the match.

Simona Halep (ROU) [3] vs. Jelena Ostapenko (LAT)It must be admitted that Simona Halep is the favorite to win this match. Ostapenko is unseeded and an unseeded player has not won a major final on the women's side in the open era, although it has happened (rarely) on the men's side  (Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2001, Boris Becker at Wimbledon in 1985). But this does not mean that the hard-hitting Latvian has no chance of winning on Saturday. Anyone who is hitting more winners than anyone else in the tournament, and whose average speed of her forehand is faster than World #1 Andy Murray's clearly has a chance to win any match she plays. She will be facing Halep, who faced a match point in the second set tiebreaker against another hard-hitting player in the quarterfinal, Elina Svitolina. Ostapenko should take a look at that match because Svitolina basically blew Halep off the court for nearly 90 minutes, wracking up huge 5-0 and 5-1 leads in the first two sets. The key point, though, is that despite facing those huge deficits Halep did not give up and ended up winning that match by winning the deciding third set 6-0!

I expect Halep will win this match, but it will probably not be in straight sets. I think Ostapenko will have a very good first set but that as the finish line gets closer she will get more and more nervous and Halep will repeat her performance against Svitolina (without allowing such a huge deficit this time). It is also very possible that Halep will follow the blueprint of her match with Pliskova and stay close enough to her hard-hitting opponent to frustrate her with her defense and draw errors. I think this will be harder to do, because Ostapenko moves better than Pliskova and Bacsinsky tried this game plan against Ostapenko and it didn't work out that well, but Halep has many more weapons than Bacsinszky. I do believe that Halep is the mentally tougher player, it says something that Ostapenko has been in 3 career finals in the last 9 months and has lost all three. Halep is a woman on a mission to finally win her first major, and the bonus is that she will claim the World #1 ranking as well.

MadProfessah's pick: Halep.

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