Friends like these: Stephens and Keys face off again
A Roland-Garros final berth and the world No.1 ranking are both on the line when the duo meet on Thursday.
The top seed versus the former champion, with the world No.1 ranking and a place in the Roland-Garros final on the line.
Matches rarely come bigger than this without the winner lifting a trophy.
Simona Halep is inching ever-closer to that elusive Grand Slam breakthrough – of her six semi-final appearances at the majors, three have come in the last 12 months, including a run to this year’s dramatic Australian Open final against Caroline Wozniacki. Perhaps because of her status as top seed and last year’s finalist here in Paris, her progress hadn’t garnered the attention that such plain sailing arguably deserves – at least not until the quarter-finals.
A sterling fightback over three sets against Angelique Kerber changed all that. Halep pointed to her temple after beating the two-time major winner to acclaim her ever-improving mental fortitude under pressure. Her resilience and adaptability, twinned with exemplary court coverage, iron-clad fitness and sniper-like shot making, served as a timely reminder that she has the measure of any opponent on her day.
“It was really about the mental,” Halep said. “Also physical, for sure, but mentally I was strong. After losing that [first] set, when I came back, it was a little bit tough, but I stayed there. I stayed focused. I never gave up. My head won it.
“Of course, it's a different match [against Muguruza]. I have to expect some hard points, power. It doesn't matter who she is playing against, she does her game. So I have just to stay strong, to try to make her uncomfortable on court, and to try to play my game.”
If Halep had sailed under the radar, it is Muguruza who has posted the statement victories here in Paris. The 2016 champion stomped past former finalist Sam Stosur and two-time winner Maria Sharapova for a combined loss of just five games to reach the final four and has looked commanding throughout.
The reigning Wimbledon champion is still to drop a set in this year’s tournament.
Muguruza leads the head-to head rivalry with Halep 3-1, but that sole defeat came in their only meeting on clay, in Stuttgart in 2015. This will be their first Grand Slam clash.
Nevertheless, Muguruza insists Halep enters the match as the favourite.
“I think she's right now probably the best player,” the 23-year-old said. “She's played better than I have this year. She loves clay. She loves Roland Garros. She's shown it.”