Courtney Nguyen, Point: When World No.1 Serena Williams takes to Court Philippe Chatrier on Saturday for the Roland Garros final, she'll be looking to match Stefanie Graf's Open Era record of 22 major singles title, successfully defend her French Open title for the first time in her career, and capture her fourth French Open title. And she'll be the underdog.
No really, bear with me.
Serena arrives at her second major final of the season on the slightest of sputters. In three of her last four matches she's looked nervous, out-of-rhythm and, at times, injured. The World No.1 has dropped just one set en route to the final but looked far from convincing in her last two matches, a three-set win over Yulia Putintseva in the quarterfinals and a narrow straight-set win over Kiki Bertens in the semifinals.
After the semifinals she reluctantly confirmed a report that she was dealing with an adductor injury. Due to the rainouts and scheduling shuffles, Saturday's final will be the 34-year-old's fourth consecutive day of play.
Serena has not faced a Top 10 opponent all tournament and she'll see a huge step up in quality when she faces No.4 Garbiñe Muguruza. The Spaniard brushed off a nervous, three-set opening win over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova to roll through her next five matches without losing a set. She is fit, she is healthy, and she is confident. And she has the confidence in knowing she handed Serena one of her worst losses ever at a Slam, a 6-2, 6-2 rout here in Paris two years ago. Muguruza is in-form. Serena has looked shaky.
But how much will that matter, if at all, in the final?
For all of Serena's ups and downs, we know she wins on one significant metric: experience. That's what got her through against Putintseva. The youngster from Kazakhstan was five points away from the win, but it was Serena who stood tall and found her best when her back was against the wall. Similarly, Bertens was up a break in both sets and held a set point in the tie-break. Serena snuffed out the charge by sheer force of will. Flash back to the third round when the American rallied from 2-5 down in the second set tiebreaker to Kristina Mladenovic to seal a 12-10 win.
"Obviously I want to do well and I would like to win tomorrow," Serena said. "But, you know, I think Muguruza has been playing really well. She's been playing a really aggressive game and going for her shots. Regardless, I think it will be a good match. I mean, last time we played here in France she was able to win the match.
"I learned so much from that match. I hate to lose, but when I do, you know, I hope it was worth it. That match was definitely one of those that was kind of needed and worth it."
Serena holds a 3-1 edge in her head-to-head against Muguruza. All their matches have come at the Slams, with the most recent being the 2015 Wimbledon final, which Serena won 6-4, 6-4. Muguruza gave her a tough test that day but again, Serena's willpower, weapons, and yes, experience, led to the win. Muguruza was green then and she will be less green on Saturday when she competes in her second major final. But again, Serena has been here before. Many times. And more often than not she's come through.
In fact, all Serena needs to look back on for inspiration is her title run here in Paris a year ago. On the brink of defeat match after match, and suffering from a virus, she won five three-set matches during the fortnight, four in which she dropped the first set, including three back-to-back to win the title. As Putintseva so eloquently put it after her three-set loss: "I think the match was very close and very far from being on my side."
That's the pressure you feel when you're up against the sport's greatest escape artist, who has at her disposal some of the greatest weapons the game has ever seen. Muguruza will no doubt come out firing. But with a 21-5 record in Slam finals, Serena has the resources she can count on to get to the finish line.
David Kane, Counterpoint: Garbiñe Muguruza's two weeks on the terre battue could easily serve as a microcosm of her season thus far. A slow start in the first round against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova caused many to wonder whether the Spaniard was ready to win the requisite six matches to reach her second Grand Slam final.
But Muguruza recovered, and has looked better and better as the tournament progressed, easing past 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets and weathering the storms - both literal and figurative - to outlast Shelby Rogers in the quarterfinals.
The first Spanish woman in a French Open final since Conchita Martinez in 2000, Muguruza could become the second-ever from Spain to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen after Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, who won the event three times (1989, 1994, 1998). But Muguruza admits she found herself idolizing another of her compatriots as she grew up and into the game.
"With Arantxa, the problem was that I was very young. I didn't watch her. I watched her after, when I was, you know, more into tennis. But when I was that young I was not even watching tennis, so I didn't catch her.
"But I caught more of Rafa when I was younger and like looking at him here, you know, every year winning, like, 'No way! He did it again and he did it and he did it!' So I think he inspired me more."
Barring a slight hiccup when it came time to serve for the match, her semifinal victory over 2010 finalist and No.21 seed Samantha Stosur was her most emphatic of the fortnight, one that featured 20 winners and five aces, three of which arrived in the final game to extinguish a late Stosur surge.
Her biggest result may have been at Wimbledon, but her breakthrough came in Paris, when she stunned World No.1 Serena Williams in the second round en route to the quarterfinals. Her rivalry with Williams has been reserved for the game's biggest stages, as all four of their matches have come at major tournaments; though the last two matches have gone the way of the American, Muguruza led by a set at last year's Australian Open and played tough through two sets at the aforementioned All England Club encounter.
"I think that she and I are players who like dictating the game. We like dominating the game. I think I'm going to fight for each point. There will be moments when she'll be dominating, and maybe at times I will be dominating.
"I think I can be a tough opponent, too."
Muguruza has built a reputation for hot streaks throughout her surge up the rankings, yet her 2016 had been a season of subtle gains and steadily improving results, narrowly losing to Victoria Azarenka in Miami and Madison Keys in the semifinals of Rome.
Her coaching partnership with Sam Sumyk seems to have come into its own after a rocky start. Ahead of Saturday's final, she could have few better in her corner than the former coach of Azarenka, who helped the Belarusian reach the No.1 ranking and earn back-to-back final wins against Serena in 2013.
"I have learned a lot how to control my emotions inside the court and outside the court. I think it's very important, because sometimes it's not too good to show them or to not be in control of them."
The Spaniard has made no secret that the French Open is a tournament she grew up dreaming of winning, and at 22 years old, she just may be ready to make that dream come true.
-All photos courtesy of Getty Images.