Ostapenko, Halep represent the future of women's tennis

Halep and Ostapenko have set up a French Open final showdown (1:40)

World No. 4 Simona Halep is looking to capture her first Grand Slam and the No. 1 rank ahead of her French Open final against Jelena Ostapenko. (1:40)

PARIS -- A week into the French Open, former doubles No. 1 Pam Shriver expressed her views about the open nature of the women's event at Roland Garros. "Is it too late for me to enter the field?" she asked on Twitter.

Shriver, now an analyst with ESPN, is one of the shrewdest judges of the game, men and women. With no Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova or Victoria Azarenka, and with Petra Kvitova only just beginning her comeback, the event undoubtedly lacked established star quality.

The early defeat of Angelique Kerber took the current world No. 1 out of the equation, and by the time we got to the quarterfinals, it was the first time since the 1979 Australian Open that all eight remaining players in the singles were chasing their first Grand Slam title.

But a vacuum creates opportunity. The two semifinal matches Thursday were high-quality affairs, and when Simona Halep steps out against Jelena Ostapenko in the final Saturday, each has a great chance to make a name for herself in the changing face of the women's game.

Azarenka will return this month after having her first child, and Williams, also out on maternity leave, says she will be back next year. Still, Ostapenko and, to a lesser extent, Halep represent the future, not just in their presence at this event, but also in the way they play. Romania's Halep, who will become world No. 1 if she takes the title, is a phenomenal athlete. She has renewed confidence and believes she belongs at the top.

Ostapenko, who will enter the top 20 regardless of the result of her first Grand Slam final, has caused gasps from crowd and experts alike with her booming game.

The 20-year-old has been likened to a right-handed Kvitova for the way she hits her huge, flat, angled groundstrokes. Ostapenko has walloped 245 winners in six matches; her average forehand speed is more than Andy Murray's, and she is utterly fearless. But she has never been part of this stage before. Three years removed from her junior Wimbledon triumph, she has never experienced the kind of pressure that could be waiting for her in Saturday's final.

Like the established stars, Halep and Ostapenko have to start somewhere. Many top former players are delighted others are stepping up to the challenge.

"We are definitely missing some of the legends, but it's great to see new faces," Mats Wilander, a three-time French Open champion, said at a Eurosport event. Former women's No. 1 Chris Evert, who won this event six times, described Ostapenko as something special.

"We need personalities, and she's a personality," Evert, an ESPN analyst, also said on Eurosport. "She's feisty, she's outgoing and she's right in your face, but isn't that the new generation anyway? I'm sure in future matches, it will hurt her, knowing how emotional she is; it always hurts players who wear their hearts on their sleeves.

"But in this tournament, it certainly has not hurt her. We've seen her in tears on the court in previous matches, and she almost had a few tears [in the semifinal], so I think it could hurt her in some matches, but she's winning more than she's losing, and I don't think she has to worry too much about it."

Evert believes that 25-year-old Halep, who was runner-up here in 2014 and who survived a 6-3, 5-1 deficit against Elina Svitolina in the quarterfinals, will not let her chance go. But unseeded Ostapenko, who previously had never gone beyond the third round of any Grand Slam, is that kind of unknown quantity who seems to believe this is her time. Either way, it promises to be an intriguing final -- the go-for-broke hitter against the supreme mover. Experience against youth, passion against passion.

"At the beginning of the tournament, I actually picked Halep to win the title, but she has nearly lost a couple of times herself," Evert said. "It is an open tournament, and it's great for the tournament that Ostapenko has got as far as she has as an unseeded player. She is a fresh face, and it's great. Her life will never be the same after this -- win or lose the title."

Both of them will remember this fortnight for many reasons. Depending what happens in the final, we might remember this as the moment the women's game changed.