Simona Halep says she plans to “stay chill” when she attempts once again to win a first major title in Saturday’s French Open final against Sloane Stephens.
The Romanian is the world No.1 and carries a 5-2 head-to-head record into the final, but also the memory of three previous Grand Slam final defeats.
Stephens was ranked 957th in the world less than a year ago after undergoing foot surgery, and yet the American stands on the brink of winning her second major title in nine months, following a remarkable US Open triumph in September.
The pressure would therefore seem to be on Halep, beaten by Maria Sharapova in the 2014 Roland Garros final and from 6-4 3-0 up against the unseeded Jelena Ostapenko last year.
“I don’t know who said that I feel pressure. Not me, obviously. I don’t feel pressure,” said the Romanian.
“I feel that it’s a big challenge for me. It’s a big chance to win my dream tournament.”
Halep has recovered impressively from another potentially scarring defeat in January’s Australian Open final defeat against Caroline Wozniacki, finding her best form to see off former No.1s Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza in her last two matches.
She has dropped just two sets in six matches and tops the tournament standings with 38 breaks of serve.
The 26-year-old has also gathered the affection of the crowd on her journey to a third Paris final in five years.
“Okay, let’s make a deal. I will play for the fans from all over the world, because I know that many are hoping me to win this Grand Slam finally,” she joked.
“I will put everything I have Saturday on the court. I will think that I will make many people happy. So maybe I will have enough power to win it.”
Stephens, 25, has cut a remarkably relaxed figure on her way through the draw and can take confidence from a 6-0 career record in finals.
Her current status is a far cry from this time last year, when she was only recently back in action following 11 months out with a foot injury and languishing in the lower reaches of the rankings.
“After not playing for 11 months, I’ve had some great results,” said the American, who will rise to fourth in the rankings next week.
“Obviously a lot of hard work went into it, a lot of adversity, a lot of ups and downs. A lot of emotion, wondering am I ever going to be the same? Am I ever going to play good again at a high enough level? Am I a protected ranking?
“I think now I’ve matured a little bit and have recognised the opportunities when they have been presented.
“The most important thing is that I have taken those opportunities.”
18 January 2019
Maria Sharapova is targeting home hope Ashleigh Barty after ending Caroline Wozniacki's Au... More
23 February 2016
Tennis is a funny old game. People love you one minute and then want to drop you the next;... More
9 January 2019
If there are two things Nick Kyrgios loves in life, it’s basketball and sneakers – so ... More