Simona Halep has reached the final of the French Open these past two years but has failed to come away with the title and has vowed to reverse that unfortunate trend to collect her first grand slam title which, as the current world No.1, she has been embarrassed by its lack on her C.V.
But she will have to defeat Sloane Stephens, the reigning US Open champion, in Saturday’s final.
I am really happy that I won the match, it was very important for my mind and I gave it all I had. It was really important for my mind to know I could win against a great opponent Simona Halep
Halep enjoyed a surprising 6-1 6-4 victory over the 2016 champion and third seed Garbine Muguruza while Stephens defeated her close friend Madison Keys, the player she beat for the US title, 6-4 6-4, clearing the quarter-finals in Paris for the first time.
“I am really happy that I won the match, it was very important for my mind and I gave it all I had,” Halep declared. “It was really important for my mind to know I could win against a great opponent.
“It’s a pleasure to play here. I’m happy to play the final again at my favourite grand slam. I’ll try my best and hopefully do better than last year.”
After racing through the first set in a match which everyone expected to be a tight contest between two of the current top players vying for the top world ranking slot.
The Spaniard’s resistance improved in the second set but was short lived after Halep saved three break points in a marathon 13-minute ninth game of the second.
“I think I played one of my best matches on clay against a great opponent,” added Halep, who will be appearing in her fourth final at the majors having also been beaten in Melbourne last January.
“I was 2-4 down in the second set but I knew I had to fight for every ball, push her back and play the way I did in the first set,” Halep, who has now defeated Muguruza in both their meetings on clay, revealed. The win also means she retains the world number one ranking next week irrespective of Saturday’s result.
However, her sights now turn to the final where she is desperate to erase the memories of last year’s horror show where she surrendered a set and a 3-0 lead to lose to Jelena Ostapenko.
“I have another chance to be in the final and hope to do better than last year.”
Psychologically she has the advantage as she holds a 5-2 career lead over Stephens including both their meetings on clay with the American’s last win over her scored five years ago.
She also showed some very spirited and dogged tennis, retrieving the ball well and turning defence into attack on many occasions with her aggressive style. She swept into a 5-0 lead in the first set against a misfiring Muguruza who had blasted Maria Sharapova off court on Wednesday for the loss of just three games. It also seems that Halep has taken a leaf out of the Russian’s playing manual as her grunting levels are now matching hers!
The 24-year-old Spaniard stopped the rot in the sixth game before Halep quickly reasserted her authority to claim the opening set.
It was the first set that the Wimbledon champion had dropped at Roland Garros this year. She also failed to win a single service game in the opener.
Muguruza settled down in the second set, moving 2-0 ahead before Halep levelled in the eighth game and the crucial lengthy ninth game where Halep stood firm as Muguruza’s fight eventually started to fade.
“It’s Simona’s third final in Roland Garros, she has a great level. She’s the favourite,” Muguruza then affirmed.
Later Stephens defeated Keys in straight sets when she won the US Open last September and it was very match the same in Roland Garros.
“It’s really hard to play against a great friend, but I am pleased to be in the final for the first time,” said Stephens who can expect her ranking to rise to four following her her best ever performace at the French Open.
“This is one of my favourite tournaments. It’s another great opportunity and I am looking forward to it,” she admitted.
In the first all-American women’s semi-final in Paris since 2002, when Serena Williams beat Jennifer Capriati, the 10th seeded Stephens broke in the third game of the opening set which was enough to secure it as Keys struggled with her game making 23 unforced errors.
Stephens took command of the second set early and went 5-2 up and though Keys managed to prevent her serving out, it was a short-lived resurgence as she continued to make errors which by the end of the match totalled 41.
Prior to the match, Stephens, who was close to going out in the third round to Camila Giorgi before winning 8-6 in a deciding set, put their friendship in context. “When we get on the court, it’s time to compete.” She certainly showed no mercy.