PARIS (Reuters) - Simona Halep has the French Open title in her grasp and will “not let it go” now, according to claycourt great Chris Evert.
The 25-year-old, who arrived as world number four but can top the WTA rankings if she beats unseeded Jelena Ostapenko in Saturday’s showpiece, was the pick of seven-time champion Evert before the tournament and nothing has altered her view.
“I don’t think Halep is going to let go of the title now,” Evert, adding her vast Roland Garros knowledge to broadcaster Eurosport’s coverage, told Reuters.
“She has come through adversity. She nearly didn’t play because of injury, she was a set and two breaks down in the quarter-finals. She’s not going to let this go,” said Evert.
“She is not playing against a Serena, or a player she has lost to. She is not going to lose this title. This is her best chance ever to win a grand slam and she’ll find a way.”
Halep, who could become only the second Romanian woman to win a grand slam after Virginia Ruzici, now her manager, ruled on the Parisian clay in 1978, has indeed done things the hard way after a straightforward first week.
She was as good as out when she trailed by a set and 5-1 against fifth seed Elina Svitolina, before grinding her way back from the brink, then soaked up some searing power in a three-set defeat of second seed Karolina Pliskova in the semis.
Halep admits that might not have been possible until a change of mindset after a brief split with coach Darren Cahill, who questioned her desire after a defeat in Miami.
“He told me many words, but it’s tough to explain,” said Halep, who was beaten by Maria Sharapova in the 2014 final.
“He told me that I have to play every point because every point it’s important at this level. Until he told me, I thought I did not give up in matches. But I did a few times and in the most important moments,” she said.
“If you give up, you don’t have that chance anymore.
“The break (with Cahill) was definitely very good. It woke me up a little bit and made me realise that I have to change something to be in this position. After that I’ve won so many matches on the clay.”
Halep reached the semi-finals in Stuttgart, won the title in Madrid and reached the Rome final where she injured her ankle in a three-set defeat by Svitolina.
Should she win on Saturday, she will be the first player since Justine Henin in 2005 to take a singles’ title at Roland Garros after saving a match point.
The unseeded Ostapenko will doubtless try and blast Halep off balance with her relentless attacking game, but the Romanian is ready for whatever the Latvian throws her way.
“She’s hitting very strong balls. But I will focus more on myself. I’m not focusing on her too much. It’s going to be a big match, tough match. I know that. She can play her best tennis. She has nothing to lose but I’m ready.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Mark Heinrich