First among equals as Halep, Ostapenko eye French title

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Simona Halep is targeting the world number one ranking in Saturday’s French Open final but fast-rising Latvian upstart Jelena Ostapenko threatens to crash the Romanian’s party as a first-time major champion will be crowned.

Halep marked herself out as a favourite for the title at Roland Garros after winning in Madrid and finishing runner-up in Rome, but a tumble in the Italian Open final left her with ankle ligament damage and cast doubt over whether she would play in Paris.

The 25-year-old has since dismissed concerns over her fitness and finds herself one win away from a memorable maiden Slam title triumph that would also see her supplant 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 Halep, who lost to Maria Sharapova in three sets in the 2014 French Open final.

“I learned many things during the years, not just after that final. Also semi-finals in Wimbledon. Then US Open against (Flavia) Pennetta before that match.

“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 different player, and I’m much stronger than 2014.”

Third seed Halep stormed into the quarter-finals without dropping a set, but she faced match point against Elina Svitolina before pulling off a miraculous recovery from 3-6, 1-5 down to reach the last four.

Halep then beat Karolina Pliskova for the fifth time in six meetings to set up an intriguing clash with unseeded Ostapenko.

“I never played against her. I don’t know what to expect from her,” said Halep, bidding to become just the fifth player to win both the girls’ and women’s singles titles at Roland Garros.

“She’s much younger than me. Of course she has nothing to lose.”

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