Baseline Buzz: Sharapova or Halep?


PARIS -- California Chrome may want to watch closely as Maria Sharapova guns for another French Open title.

If you're keeping track, the Russian has now dropped the first set in her past three matches -- only to come back and win. So for the thoroughbred, who is seeking to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1979, mimicking Sharapova's slow start might be a smart strategy in the grueling 1½-mile test at the Belmont Stakes, the last leg in the Triple Crown series.

In horse racing and tennis, although laboring early is not recommended, there is time to recover. Just ask Sharapova.

"Well, I would love to win those matches in two sets, but I always feel like I put in the work to be ready to play whatever it takes," she said after the semifinals. "If it takes three hours to win the match in three sets, I will be ready for that.

Sharapova will need that resolve come Saturday when she faces Simona Halep for the title. Until the semifinals, Halep hadn't dropped more than four games in any set through her first five matches, an astonishing feat considering she had not sniffed anything close to a major final in her five years on tour. As it stands, Halep is still a perfect 12-for-12 in sets.

There are a number of ways to look at this final. Halep will be the fresher player and has been playing near the top of her game for two weeks. But Sharapova has the winning pedigree and experience under the spotlight. She won this event two years ago and collectively has four Slam championships. So there is the anxiety factor to consider.

"Yes, I felt more nervous today," Halep said after beating Andrea Petkovic in the semis. "I felt a little bit like in Australian Open before quarterfinals. Before the match was better for me. I stayed relaxed with my team. But when I stepped on court, it was very difficult to manage the emotions.

Unfortunately, we can't forget, which brings us to another spirited edition of the Baseline Buzz. How will the final women's match of this fortnight play out? tennis editor Matt Wilansky and espnW's Jim Caple share their thoughts.

Wilansky: It's counterintuitive on so many levels, Jim. Sharapova doesn't have the makeup of a clay-court player, and even she would tell you it's not her ideal playing surface. James Blake was in-house a few days ago and I asked him how Sharapova has been able to sustain her stellar form on dirt. Without hesitation, he said that clay exposes Sharapova's movement and that her game is better suited anywhere but in Paris. But Blake credited Sharapova's unrelenting tenacity as the main reason for her success. Yet here she is, one match away from winning her second title at Roland Garros. So you could argue clay is her best surface.

Caple: It is, Mr. Wilansky. Sharapova says clay was tough for her when she was starting out because she lacked the mental confidence when playing on it. "It took me years to build that confidence in my body and my legs getting stronger and recovering on the court to make it a surface that I actually loved playing on,'' she said earlier this tournament. She definitely has that confidence now. Not only has she reached the final here the past three years, she has won 93 percent of her matches on clay since 2012.

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