PARIS -- When Serena Williams announced she was pregnant and when Maria Sharapova was not given a wild card into the French Open, it didn't take a genius to suggest that Simona Halep, the 2014 runner-up, would be the most likely to take the trophy.
Armed with her new positive attitude thanks to some sharp words from coach Darren Cahill, with whom she made a swift reunion after a brief break, Halep has coped with the pressure well and battled through to a second Grand Slam final.
She will be expected to win against an unseeded opponent in Saturday's final, but in Jelena Ostapenko she will face a woman who Chris Evert, the former world No. 1 and ESPN analyst who is working for ITV during the French Open, said is "something special."
"I was around watching [Martina] Hingis come up and [Steffi] Graf come up and [Monica] Seles come up, and I just see something special in this young lady and the fact that she's so fearless," Evert said of Ostapenko. "But what I like even more is her hunger, and you can see it on her face. She really wants this badly and is going to go to any length to win. I love that attitude, and it's the attitude with the power and the short angles -- she has a game to back it up. I think she's very special."
Here are a few fun facts about Ostapenko.
Her forehand is faster than Andy Murray's.
French TV flashed up a great stat during Ostapenko's semifinal win Thursday over Timea Bacsinszky, showing the speed of various players' forehands during this year's tournament. Ostapenko's average was 76 mph (122 kph). That is 2 mph faster than ATP world No. 1 Murray, whose forehand is not too shabby, and, wait for it, just 3 mph slower than Rafael Nadal, who has built his career on his forehand. "Normally, my backhand is my favorite shot," Ostapenko said with a smile. "But I was working on the forehand, and I think it's pretty good now."
She hits more winners than anyone.
In her six matches so far at this year's French Open, Ostapenko has crunched 245 winners. She's also made a lot of unforced errors -- 217 -- but her winners come at big moments, and the power of her groundstrokes, both forehand and backhand, have drawn gasps from the crowd. And to put it into context, 50 winners is enough to win two full sets (and the first two points of a third).
She has a total lack of fear.
Even when she misses, Ostapenko never stops going for her shots. It's a habit that players tend to grow out of, when the importance of winning changes, but for now she goes for broke.
As Bacsinszky said after losing 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3: "She's 20. Not afraid of anything. She doesn't measure maybe what she's doing right now. She probably doesn't care.
"The best example is the match point. I serve very well wide. She's hitting as hard as she can down the line from nowhere. It comes that [high] above the net and in the corner. I mean, who tries that? Seriously? I mean, it's like 1 out of 10. But she does it. So we'll see if she does it at 28 years old."
She is trying to make history.
The Latvian is best known for winning the 2014 junior Wimbledon title and for being a bit feisty on court at times, although she has yet to win a WTA Tour title. The last woman to win her first title in a Grand Slam event was Australian Chris O'Neil at the 1978 Australian Open, and the last man to do it was Gustavo Kuerten at Roland Garros in 1997. Kuerten won that title -- the first of his three French Opens -- on June 8, the day Ostapenko was born. And as the first Latvian to make a Grand Slam singles final, she is making a nice bit of history for her country, too.
If she wins, she'll be one of the biggest outsiders ever to take the title.
Westgate Las Vegas Superbook made Ostapenko 100-1 to win the title before the French Open began. Even those odds were pretty stingy, given that she was unseeded and had never been past the third round of any Grand Slam. Goran Ivanisevic, who won Wimbledon in 2001 as a 150-1 wild card, would be proud.