The women’s semi-final line up may well surprise many who believed that it would include Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova.
The two were scheduled to meet in the quarter-finals but the American former world No.1 pulled out minutes before the match was called citing a shoulder injury which prevented her from serving.
Consequently the Russian progressed with an additional day’s rest to take on the reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza who, in retrospect, had also benefitted from an injury retirement at that same stage when she was already leading by two games to love.
The last time we played was a very long time ago, and a lot of things happened in between that. So I feel like I am a more developed player. And I am very motivated out there too – it was a Grand Slam quarter-final Garbine Muguruza
Following the anti-climax of that eagerly awaited match being cancelled, there was hope that her quarter-final clash with Muguruza would provide as a contest between two former No.1s and ex Roland Garros champions.
Fireworks were expected as both arrived on court full of confidence but the match itself was a damp squib as the Spaniard thrashed the Russian 6-2 6-1 despite the rising barrage of shrieks and noise she also had to contend with.
The win was the first that Muguruza had claimed over Sharapova having lost their three previous ones.
“I am very pleased to be in another semi-final in Paris,” the 24-year-old, 2016 champion said. “I was up against a great player, so I had make sure I brought my best tennis.”
Sharapova, who is still trying to rediscover her form of previous years before she suffered a 12-month ban for taking performance enhancing drugs, looked rusty on this occasion. Her service games were poor as Muguruza rushed into a 4-0 lead to consequently take a one-set lead.
Sharapova’s second serve was being hammered regularly and she fell 1-0 down in the second but recovered the break only to be blitzed by the third seed to secure her place in the last four.
“I knew it was going to be an intense match, because I hadn’t played her for a long time,” said Muguruza. “I wasn’t thinking so much about the result, but I just was thinking about not dropping my level, not giving her a single point, and I guess that helped my performance.
“The last time we played was a very long time ago, and a lot of things happened in between that. So I feel like I am a more developed player. And I am very motivated out there too – it was a Grand Slam quarter-final!”
For Sharapova to win just 3 games must have been a bitter pill to swallow.
“It’s tough to just assess a single tournament. I think I have to put a lot of things in perspective for the last, what, four, five weeks since the clay season,” Sharapova said after her defeat.
“Coming into this part of the year, I was losing a few first-round matches; matches that I wanted to be winning, of course – but to have had the victories that I have had, to have the results that I have, obviously moving a step in the right direction. Today was certainly not one of those steps.”
Now Muguruza will face Simona Halep for a place in the final and the opportunity to add another grand slam title to her C.V. She will be facing Simona Halep who is still chasing her first Grand Slam title hoping that it will be ‘third time lucky’, the Romanian having suffered two successive defeats in the final round these past two years.
Also at stake will be the World No1 ranking.
“I mean, it’s not that important, because it’s constantly this thing going on, you know… since last year,” she said having briefly stood at the summit of the rankings for four weeks last September.
“So I give less importance to that. Like, before, I gave it a lot of importance so that’s why you’re fighting every week, and I got there.
“And now it’s just — it’s good to be able to play all the time for that, but every week there is a new chance, there is a new thing.”
There were five players in with a chance of supplanting Halep at the start of the tournament, but Caroline Wozniacki, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova and Caroline Garcia all failed to make the quarter-finals.
Meanwhile Muguruza holds a 3-1 record over Halep, with the winner of the last-four clash to face either Sloane Stephens or her fellow American Madison Keys in the final.
So, while Muguruza cruised through, Halep battled to reach the last four. She started slowly spraying the court with errors as Angelique Kerber stamped her authority on the set to jump into a 4-0 lead.
But the Romanian is no quitter. She clawed her way back into the set winning three straight games to put pressure on her German adversary. The outcome became doubtful and it was Kerber who then gained the psychological advantage by winning the deciding tie-break.
Halep came out for the second with all guns blazing and put Kerber firmly on the defensive with her aggression and by the third she had broken the 12th seed to storm into the semi-finals 6-7(2) 6-3 6-2.
“It’s always a tough match when I play against her. After the first set I just stayed strong and didn’t give up,” Halep told the spectators on Court Suzanne Lenglen in her post-match interview.
“I missed a lot in the beginning. I tried to do too much. I changed the tactics a bit and it worked.”