Paris (AFP) – Simona Halep has been undoubtedly one of the world’s best players since first reaching the French Open final four years ago, but on Saturday the world number one could equal the unwanted Open-era record of most Grand Slam finals without a title.
The 26-year-old has suffered three agonising defeats when one set from glory at the majors, with last year’s loss in Paris after leading Jelena Ostapenko by a set and 3-0 perhaps the most painful.
Halep will have a fourth opportunity to finally lift a Grand Slam trophy when she faces US Open champion Sloane Stephens in her third Roland Garros final this weekend, having lost a tight match with Maria Sharapova back in 2014.
But she is a humble character and has always insisted that she doesn’t feel under pressure to break her major duck.
“So I lost three times until now and no one died, so it will be okay,” said the Romanian.
“But I will be, I think, more confident, because I have a lot of experience. But in tennis, you never know, so I will stay chill.
“Can we change the subject? Let’s talk outside. It’s beautiful weather.”
Halep will continue to be questioned on the subject, though, if she fails to beat Stephens on Court Philippe Chatrier, as she would draw level with Czech Helena Sukova on four defeats from as many Grand Slam finals.
Her third came earlier this year to another perennial underachiever on the biggest stage, Caroline Wozniacki, in a marathon match in sweltering conditions at Melbourne Park.
Top seed Halep retained her world number one ranking by beating Garbine Muguruza 6-1, 6-4, but the Spaniard has two Grand Slam titles among her collection of six WTA victories that appears paltry when compared to Halep’s tally of 16.
Already a massive star in her home country — Halep appeared on the front cover of Romania’s ‘Elle’ magazine in April — she has received growing support from elsewhere.
That was evident during Thursday’s win over Muguruza, with the crowd firmly getting behind her as she won a crucial 13-minute game late in the second set which allowed her to then break to love for the match.
“I will play for the fans from all over the world, because I know that many are hoping for me to win this Grand Slam finally,” vowed Halep.
One of the main reasons why Halep has yet to lift a major title is her relative lack of power when compared to the game’s other big stars.
Her craft and guile pushed Sharapova all the way four years ago but couldn’t get her over the finishing line, while it was Latvian Ostapenko’s ferocious hitting that produced the stunning comeback in 2017.
But after seeing off one of the biggest hitters on tour in Muguruza, Halep insisted she can more than make up for the lack of velocity in her groundstrokes.
She pointed out: “I’m fast, though, no?
“If I’m able to play my game every match I play, then I have a better chance to win. If I focus on the opponent, then I lose my game.”
Halep, who Sports Illustrated once described as an ‘anti-diva’, would be one of most popular Grand Slam winners in recent years, but she will have some on-court demons to banish if she gets herself into another strong position.
Put simply, she says she “hopes to do better than last year”.