Halep to face Stephens in third shot at French Open final
Simona Halep will have another shot at claiming that elusive Grand Slam title when she takes on Sloane Stephens in the women’s French Open final on Saturday, while Rafael Nadal will face Juan Martin del Potro for a place in the men’s final.
Halep, the world number one, emphatically ended the impressive French Open run of 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza with a 6-1, 6-4 victory in the semifinals on Thursday, earning a third chance to claim the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen after agonizing defeats in 2014 and 2016.
Halep's fourth chance to win her first Grand Slam title will come against reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens, who beat a mistake-prone Madison Keys 6-4, 6-4 in the first all-American semifinal at Roland Garros since 2002.
"I will try my best," Halep told the crowd at Court Phillipe Chatrier, "and hopefully I will be better than last year."
The Romanian suffered an agonizing loss in last year’s final against the unseeded Jelena Ostapenko, surrendering a 6-4, 3-0 lead before collapsing in three sets. She also came up one victory shy of a major championship at the Australian Open in January, beaten there by Caroline Wozniacki.
Backed by fans who loudly chanted her first name between games, Halep went ahead 3-0 against Muguruza in only 15 minutes with the help of only one winner. Of her first 14 points, 13 arrived via errors by the Spaniard – nine unforced, four forced. It was 5-0 by the time Muguruza eventually claimed a game.
The second set was more of a test for Halep, with Muguruza making a last stand at 4-all and earning three break points. But she failed to convert any of those, and Halep held there, before breaking at love to end it.
Prior to this tournament, Halep's next opponent had never made it past the fourth round in Paris. But Stephens, the 10th seed, has since soared up the rankings and made it to her second Grand Slam final in nine months.
Thursday’s win means she now has a 3-0 record against her longtime friend Keys, including their US Open final last September. Like Halep, Stephens is an incredibly talented defensive player, and she kept stretching points until her opponent caved in. In all, Keys made 41 unforced errors, 30 more than Stephens.
"It's always hard playing someone from your country and such a good friend," Stephens said, "so I was really pleased to be able to get through that and play some good tennis."
Nadal bounces back
In the men’s draw, Rafael Nadal insisted he is "only human" after battling back from a set down to beat dogged Argentinian Diego Schwartzman in a quarter-final that was delayed by rain on Wednesday.
The 10-time champion was much-improved under the sunshine on Court Philippe Chatrier after dropping his first French Opens set in three years the night before. Nadal was pushed for three hours and 42 minutes by the 11th seed before clinching a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory.
It is the 11th time the 32-year-old Spaniard has reached the French Open last four, becoming only the third man in history to achieve the feat at a single Grand Slam, alongside Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors. He will face another Argentine, Juan Martin del Potro, for a place in the final after the fifth seed downed Marin Cilic 7-6 (7/5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5.
Del Potro fought back tears during his post-match interview and was loudly cheered by fans at Court Suzanne Lenglen during an emotional match that marked his return to the French Open semis for the first time since 2009.
"I've been a long time without feeling good with my body. I had surgery three times on my wrist and I was close to quitting this sport. I don't have words to explain what this means to me and my team,” the injury-plagued former US Open champion told reporters.
Del Potro also joked about an incident during the match when he was distracted by a noise from the crowd and double-faulted to lose the game. The imposing Argentine walked over to the side of the court and began eye-balling a row of spectators, before verbally confronting a man.
"I couldn't find the right person," he later said, laughing about the incident. "I got closer to them, just asking 'Who was it?' I'm still trying to find the right person."
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)