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French Open 2018: Simona Halep to play Sloane Stephens in final

June 6, 2018
Simona Halep
Simona Halep was French Open runner up in 2014 and 2017 – will it be third time lucky for the Romanian?
French Open 2018
Venue: Roland Garros, Paris Dates: 27 May-10 June
Coverage: Daily live radio and text commentaries on BBC Radio 5 live, the BBC Sport website and app.

World number one Simona Halep has another chance to finally land her first Grand Slam title after beating Garbine Muguruza in the French Open semi-finals.

The Romanian, 26, won 6-1 6-4 against the Spanish third seed.

She will now face Sloane Stephens in Saturday’s final after the US Open champion beat Madison Keys 6-4 6-4.

Halep has lost three previous Grand Slam finals, including two at Roland Garros in 2014 and 2017.

‘One of my best matches on clay’

The Romanian arrived in Paris as the top seed and the leading player on the WTA Tour this year, hoping this would be the moment she finally lands her first major.

She further proved her credentials with a dominant, yet gutsy, win over 2016 champion Muguruza, who failed to hold serve in the first set.

“I think I played one of my best matches on clay,” Halep said. “Every day I play better and that makes me happy.”

One thing Halep will not want to dwell on is the fact she has won only one of her past eight finals – including a defeat by Jelena Ostapenko in last year’s Roland Garros showpiece.

Halep also lost to five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova in 2014, while she was also beaten in this year’s Australian Open final by Caroline Wozniacki.

“I have more experience now,” she said. “I feel calm. I feel that I have to enjoy this victory because it’s a great match.

“And I have two more days until I will play the final. So I will relax and then we will see what is going to happen Saturday. But for sure, I will fight for every ball.”

Muguruza undone by ‘lightning’ start

Garbine Muguruza
Garbine Muguruza is a two-time major winner having won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017

Halep spent an hour longer on court than Muguruza in their respective quarter-finals on Wednesday, needing three sets to beat German 12th seed Angelique Kerber.

By contrast, Muguruza breezed past Sharapova in a ruthless victory, but any thoughts those differing levels of energy burned would hinder Halep and motivate Muguruza were swiftly dismissed.

Wimbledon champion Muguruza, considered the slight favourite by many, handed her serve over in the first game with a double fault on break point and Halep raced 5-0 ahead in the opening set.

Halep lost focus to allow Muguruza to claw back one break, only to break again herself to seal the first set in 36 minutes.

“She started playing very well immediately and I wasn’t able to reach the level that she was playing at. It was just lightning,” said Muguruza.

The 24-year-old improved in the early stages of the second set, holding serve for the first time and backing it up with a break on her way to a 3-1 lead.

That became 4-2 before Halep broke back for 4-4 and then held serve in a 14-minute game which went to a seventh deuce and saw Muguruza blow three break points.

It was a gutsy hold which proved pivotal in the match and – if Halep goes on to win the final – in her career.

Halep broke to love as Muguruza wilted in the next game, sealing her third final appearance at Roland Garros and ensuring she will stay as world number one after the tournament.

“I think it was the most important game of the match,” Halep said on the penultimate game.

“The fact that I could win that long game, I won the next one easy, so it was a little bit of a mental part in the last game. I just didn’t give up.”

Stephens wins all-American battle

Sloane Stephens
Sloane Stephens beat fellow American and good friend Madison Keys in the 2017 US Open final

In a re-run of last year’s US Open final, Stephens once again got the better of her fellow American Madison Keys in two sets.

Tenth seed Stephens broke in the third game to gain an early grip on the first set, eventually serving it out and sealing it when Keys netted a forehand.

The second set followed a similar pattern as Keys lost her first service game, although there was brief hope for the 13th seed when she broke for the first time when Stephens was serving for the match at 5-2.

But ultimately she paid the price of 41 unforced errors as Stephens served out the match at the second time of asking, sealing victory with a backhand down the line.

It was the first time two American women had reached the last four at Roland Garros since 2002, when Serena Williams beat sister Venus in the final.

“It’s always hard playing someone from your country and your friend. I was pleased to get through that and play some good tennis,” Stephens, 25, said.

“This is one of my favourite tournaments. I’ve got another great opportunity on Saturday and I’m really looking forward to it.”