The focus of the tennis world will be on the French Open women's singles final which takes place on Saturday afternoon. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, returns with his thoughts...
"Looking at clay data from the last 12 months, it is the underdog, Stephens, who has the better data on serve, holding 72.9% to Halep's 71.7%, but Halep enjoys a much bigger edge on return, breaking opponents 53.5% of the time, compared to Stephens' 45.5%. "
Halep schools Muguruza in one-sided semi-final
Thursday's action at Roland Garros saw Sloane Stephens impressively account for her American counterpart, Madison Keys, in straight sets, but arguably the standout display was from Simona Halep, as she tore through Garbine Muguruza in a brutal opening set, before coming through at the end of the second for a 2-0 victory.
Pre-match market punished by Halep's standout display
I mentioned in Thursday's preview that Halep's status as an underdog for her semi-final was utterly absurd, given both clay data and the fact that she had been tournament favourite for virtually the entire event. The markets grossly over-rated Muguruza following her win over Maria Sharapova, and with this in mind, it was extremely pleasing that the Romanian picked up an emphatic victory, and bookends a relatively successful campaign for us, from a women's perspective.
Halep a correctly priced favourite to triumph
The reason why this bookends our campaign is that my model agreed with the market pricing for Saturday's final, which takes place at 14:00 UK time. Halep is a [1.44] favourite, with Stephens the underdog, at a current [3.25].
Looking at clay data from the last 12 months, it is the underdog, Stephens, who has the better data on serve, holding 72.9% to Halep's 71.7%, but Halep enjoys a much bigger edge on return, breaking opponents 53.5% of the time, compared to Stephens' 45.5%.
Furthermore, Halep leads the head to head series between the two players 5-2, and has taken their last four encounters. Looking at the data from these, Stephens has had major issues holding serve against Halep's elite-level return, doing so just 53.3% of the time, and winning just 50.7% of service points. In fact, both players barely won over 50% of service points in these seven head to head battles, so a return-orientated match could be on the cards on Saturday.
Both players with a stellar level so far at Roland Garros
However, if we were to add any weight to our pricing from the six matches both players have played to get to this stage, we would find for Stephens. She's won 7.6% more points on serve (holding a magnificent 87.3% of the time) but Halep has won 3.7% more points on return (breaking opponents a stratospheric 63.3% - the best return data I can remember seeing for a long time). My model doesn't account for this in isolation though, merely using the data from the matches here to build a longer-term view on the players.
Halep needing to win to eliminate doubts about freezing on the big stage
The hold/break and head to head edges make Halep's status as a solid favourite correct, but until she lifts her first Grand Slam trophy, there will continue to be doubts about her ability in Slam finals.
Indeed, there is something of a deja-vu feel from last year's final, where she was a heavy favourite over Jelena Ostapenko, and Halep needs to defeat Stephens to bury the ghosts from what must have been an incredibly deflating defeat - not to mention her best chance to win a Slam title.
Halep has the opportunity to right those wrongs on Saturday afternoon.
Follow Dan on Twitter @TennisRatings
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