Simona Halep gave herself a fourth chance to win her first Grand Slam title with a magnificent performance against in-form Garbine Muguruza in the French Open semifinals.
The Romanian won 6-1 6-4 to reach her third Roland Garros final, and second in succession, with American Sloane Stephens standing in her way of a maiden major victory.
“I will put everything I have Saturday on the court,” said Halep. “I will think that I will make many people happy. So maybe I will have enough power to win it.”
Stephens was similarly impressive in a 6-4 6-4 win over compatriot Madison Keys, repeating her triumph in last September’s US Open final and taking her to the brink a second Grand Slam win in nine months.
Halep, who also finished runner-up at the Australian Open in January, secured the No.1 ranking by defeating Muguruza, and gave herself a huge confidence boost.
Asked about her run of Grand Slam final defeats, the 2014 and 2017 Roland Garros runner-up said: “It’s a big opportunity, it’s a big chance, but you never know. So I lost three times until now and no-one died, so it will be okay!”
Muguruza had looked increasingly like the champion in waiting over the previous 11 days, and went into the semifinals with a 3-1 career record against Halep.
It was a different story from the outset of their fifth meeting, however, with Halep instantly finding the speed of foot and pace of shot that has taken her to the top of the rankings.
She ripped through the opening five games, heaping pressure on Muguruza and drawing errors while attacking the Spaniard’s first and second serves.
The first set was wrapped up in a little over half an hour of electrifying tennis, but the second called on Halep’s strength of will as she fought back from 4-2 down and came through a gripping game at 4-4, fending off three break points.
“I think it was the most important game of the match,” she said after sealing victory.
Halep will head into the final carrying the goodwill of many as she tries to end her run of Grand Slam final defeats – “Can we change the subject?” she later joked – but she is likely to face her toughest test of the tournament.
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 7, 2018
Stephens has been impressive throughout, prompting several observers to pick her for the title as early as the first week.
As in New York last September, she weathered some moments of attacking brilliance from Keys to prevail, making just 11 unforced errors to her opponent’s 41.
An early break proved enough in the first set before Stephens recovered a deficit at the start of the second to build a 5-2 lead, and served out the win at the second time of asking.
“It’s never easy playing someone from your country, let alone someone you actually care about and you’re friends with,” said Stephens.
“It’s very difficult. I think when I do play Madi, it’s very competitive but it’s a little weird.”
The American will take a 2-5 record into the final against Halep, and said: “She’s No. 1 in the world for a reason. It’s just mainly about competing. No one is going to hand you the match.”
11 June 2018
World No.1 Rafael Nadal said winning a record 11th French Open title proved there was no r... More
13 June 2018
Counting the hours until Roger Federer’s return?Fans won’t have to wait much longer. O... More
11 May 2017
When we look at Rafa Nadal on clay, there are a few key points that make him better than e... More