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5 things at French Open: Sharapova's serve; Halep's nerves; could women's final go 3 sets?

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PARIS - Five things to look for in the French Open women's final Saturday:

SHARAPOVA VS. HALEP: Maria Sharapova certainly has the edge in experience against Simona Halep, having already won four Grand Slam titles and participated in four other finals. And who would have thought Sharapova might wind up with two trophies on the red clay of Roland Garros before getting a second at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open or Australian Open? This will be the 27-year-old Sharapova's third consecutive appearance in a French Open final, having won the championship in 2012, then losing to Serena Williams a year ago. Halep, meanwhile, was 1-4 for her career at Roland Garros until these two weeks.

HALEP'S FIRST FINAL: The fourth-seeded Halep is trying to become the second woman from Romania to win a Grand Slam title (the first, 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici, happens to be Halep's manager). Halep, 22, never had been past the quarterfinals at any Grand Slam tournament until now, although she's been on the rise, winning seven titles over the past two seasons and rising from No. 57 in the rankings 12 months ago. "Her level has definitely increased in the last year," Sharapova said. Still, even Halep acknowledged that controlling her nerves is vital. "It will be a tough moment for me," she said after beating Andrea Petkovic in the semifinals.

SERVING HIGHS AND LOWS: Sharapova reworked her service motion after having surgery on her right shoulder in 2008, and that stroke confounds her to this day. While beating Eugenie Bouchard in the semifinals, for example, Sharapova hit nine double-faults. She had eight in the quarterfinals. But when Sharapova can get that part of her game to work, it can put an opponent on her heels. Down the stretch against Bouchard, Sharapova won each of her last five service games, never facing so much as one break point in that span. "In some moments, it let me down," Sharapova said, "but in some moments, it backed me up."

CONTRASTS: The two finalists offer all sorts of contrasts. Their heights, for one thing: Sharapova is 6-foot-2 (1.88 metres); Halep is 5-foot-6 (1.68 metres). And while there is very little that's subtle about Sharapova — from her powerful groundstrokes at the baseline to her shot-accompanying shrieks to her success-accompanying fist shakes and yells of "Come on!" — Halep plays a quieter style. She causes foes problems by finding tough angles, changing speeds and getting to nearly every ball. She won't out-hit Sharapova but might outmanoeuvr her. Halep has said in the past that her ability move around the court improved after having breast-reduction surgery five years ago — a procedure Halep said she would have undergone even if she weren't an athlete. Asked about the operation at a news conference this week, Halep said she didn't want to speak about what she called "my personal thing."

3 SETS?: The last French Open women's final to go the distance was in 2001, when Jennifer Capriati edged Kim Clijsters 12-10 in the third set. If that happens Saturday, Sharapova's got quite a track record: She has won 19 three-setters in a row on clay, including her last three matches in Paris, each after dropping the opening set. Halep is 8-1 this year in matches that went three sets, although she hasn't faced that sort of stress test at Roland Garros, winning every match so far in straight sets.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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