Simona Halep eyes her first Grand Slam title at French Open

Sloane Stephens celebrates her semi-final victory over Madison Keys. Picture: AFP/Getty
Sloane Stephens celebrates her semi-final victory over Madison Keys. Picture: AFP/Getty
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Simona Halep emphatically ended the impressive French Open run of 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza with a 6-1, 6-4 victory in yesterday’s semi-finals.

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 sem-final in Paris since 2002.

Halep, right, confirmed her retention of the No 1 ranking and reached her third final at Roland Garros. She lost both of the previous ones in three sets, to Maria Sharapova in 2014 and to Jelena Ostapenko in 2017.

“I will try my best,” said Halep, “and hopefully I will be better than last year.”

The Romanian also came up one victory shy of a major championship at the Australian Open in January, beaten there by Caroline Wozniacki.

That means tomorrow’s final at the French Open will be Halep’s third title match in the past five Grand Slam tournaments. “I’m happy,” she said, “that I can have another chance.”

The tenth-seeded Stephens had never made it past the fourth round in Paris until now. After sitting out nearly a year because of an injured right foot that needed surgery in January 2017, she has soared up the rankings and has now made it to her second major final in the past ninth months. “Another great opportunity on Saturday, and I’m really looking forward to it,” said Stephens, whose late father, John, was the 1988 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year with the New England 
Patriots.

“It’s always hard playing someone from your country and such a good friend,” said Stephens of her long-time pal and Fed Cup team-mate Keys, whom she defeated in last year’s US Open final. “So I was really pleased to be able to get through that and play some good tennis.”

Like Halep, Stephens is an incredibly talented defensive player, and she kept stretching points until Keys would err. In all, Keys made 41 unforced errors, 30 more than Stephens.

Muguruza, a two-time major champion, entered the semi-finals having not lost a set in the tournament. She also was coming off a lopsided victory in the quarter-finals a day earlier, when she overwhelmingly defeated five-time major champion Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-1.

But it took her quite a while to get going against Halep, who managed to keep sending ball after ball back over the net. Backed by fans who loudly chanted her first name between games, Halep went ahead 3-0 in only 15 minutes with the help of only one winner. Of her first 14 points, 13 arrived via errors by Muguruza – 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, who was ahead by a set and 3-0 before falling apart against Ostapenko a year ago.

But Muguruza’s last stand came at four games all in the second set, a 13-minute game in which she held three break points. But she failed to convert any of those, and Halep held there, before breaking at love 
to end it.