Unusual French Open conditions will help Simona Halep, says Martina Navratilova, Newsline

PARIS – The French Open’s rescheduled dates will work in favour of top-seeded Romanian Simona Halep, who is fresh and confident going into the clay court Grand Slam in Paris, tennis great Martina Navratilova said on Saturday.

Halep had a brilliant build-up to this year’s French Open, picking up titles in Prague and Rome, and arrived in Paris on a 14-match unbeaten streak dating back to her triumph in Dubai before the professional circuit closed.

This year the French Open, which is usually played in May-June, has been rescheduled to start on Sunday due to the Covid-19 pandemic with the conditions likely to be colder, heavier and slower than in the spring.

“On cold and heavy days in Paris, it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to get the ball past Halep, who moves so well on clay,” 18-times Grand Slam champion Navratilova wrote in a column for the WTA website.

“Halep didn’t travel to New York for the U.S. Open, so she’s fresh. That combination of freshness, match toughness and confidence means she’s exactly where she would want to be going into the French Open.

“I watched some of her matches in Rome, and she appeared calm and controlled. Her body language was excellent and so was her tennis. It looked as though she was telling herself: ‘You got this’.”

World number two Halep lost two finals at Roland Garros before finally winning her maiden Grand Slam trophy in Paris in 2018. She won her second at Wimbledon in 2019.

Serena Williams will continue her bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title in Paris but Navratilova feels her fellow American will not enjoy the conditions this year.

“Even in the fall, Williams is still a force to be reckoned with on the Parisian clay,” Navratilova said of the 39-year-old, who lost in the semi-finals of her home Grand Slam this month. “Maybe the pressure is off her a little bit in France.

“It’s not her best surface, the conditions aren’t going to help her and while Williams will never be under the radar, there aren’t the same expectations on her that there were going into her home Grand Slam.”