By Mike McIntyre
Photos from Jimmie48 Tennis Photography
It's down to the final four at Roland Garros for the women as semifinal action is set to begin Thursday. In the top half of the draw there are two women who many/most expected to be there and in the bottom half a couple of unexpected arrivals given the surface being played on.
World No. 1 Simona Halep has every reason to capture her first Grand Slam in Paris, but the reservations are high given her previous performances when attaining the finals of a major. Both last year at this very tournament against Jelena Ostapenko and earlier this year in Australia to Caroline Wozniacki, she let commanding third sets leads slip through her fingers. She also lost a close final at the French Open in 2014 to Maria Sharapova.
Halep had to overcome losing the first set in both her opening round match against Alison Riske as well as her quarterfinal victory over Angie Kerber. The Romanian dug-deep both times and showed her typical grit to get back into the match. It often seems easier for Halep to come from behind, but her fans will nervously await the moment where she can protect a lead when it matters most. Can the Romanian finally overcome her late match lapses and maintain her focus to collect her first Slam title this week?
Garbine Muguruza will try to stop Halep and the 2016 French Open champion certainly knows how to bring out her best in the Slams. After having a lethargic clay court lead-up to Roland Garros, Muguruza has been on fire this week and is yet to drop a single set. She trounced two-time winner Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-1 in the quarters on Wednesday and looks intent to claim her second major title on the red clay. Muguruza is already a two-time Grand Slam champion and has proven herself quite capable when reaching this stage of the bigger events.
In the bottom half we have two Americans who are set to re-enact their surprise US Open final from last September. Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens have both seen their promising young careers temporarily derailed by injuries in the past. Healthy and playing the best tennis we have seen from them, the two have surprised many by having such strong results here on clay.
Keys - like Muguruza - has yet to lose a set in Paris and her most impressive win was a 6-1, 7-6 victory in the third round over rising star Naomi Osaka. For her part, Stephens has had four lopsided victories en route to the semifinals, but survived a stern test from Italian Camila Giorgi in the round of sixteen where she narrowly advanced 4-6, 6-1, 8-6.
In terms of head-to-head encounters, Muguruza leads Halep 3-1, but the Romanian took their only career meeting on clay back in 2015 in Stuttgart. Stephens has the 2-0 edge over Keys, and both of those matches have been on hard courts and also had very decisive scorelines.
All four remaining players have made Slam Finals before but only two have prevailed. While Muguruza has the best track record at the French as a previous champion, Halep will be anxious to erase the self-doubt she has certainly accumulated in recent years. Keys and Stephens want to prove that they can excel on the red clay of Europe just as much as their more accomplished clay court rivals in the other half.
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