PARIS – The women’s final is set.
In the first semifinal on Philippe-Chatrier, world No. 1 Simona Halep defeated No. 3 seed Garbine Muguruza 6-1, 6-4 to reach her second consecutive French Open final and third final at Roland Garros overall. She’ll have yet another chance to fill the gaping void in her resume by winning her first Grand Slam.
Next up was a match between two Americans who happen to be good friends off the court. In a rematch of last year’s U.S. Open final, No. 10 seed Sloane Stephens beat No. 13 Madison Keys 6-4, 6-4, to advance to her first French Open final.
Here are three thoughts from what was an entertaining day of women’s tennis.
A performance worthy of the world No. 1
Simona Halep followed Rafa Nadal on court, and she followed Nadal’s gameplan to perfection—it was a masterful performance of defense plus offense…plus defense. She made Muguruza hit the extra ball all match long and outlasted her in a really crucial game at 4-4 in the second. The world No. 1 then closed out what I would consider the biggest win of her career. Now, she gets to pick an even bigger one.
And don’t expect the moment to get to Halep—She knows the rules of engagement. She knows she needs to win one of these Slams, and she’s confronted this missing element head-on. Now she gets her fourth chance to do exactly that. A win on Saturday would cement her place as the current top dog in the women’s game.
Stephens’ attitude has helped her in these matches against her friend-turned opponent
Stephens and Keys have now played six sets against each other, and the former has won all six. Some of this is X’s and O’s; Sloane makes you hit the extra ball and has played terrific tennis in the matches, and Keys has missed too much. She had 41 unforced errors today, which isn’t going to win you too many two-set matches.
But I also think Stephens has figured out the awkward dynamic of playing your good friend better than Keys has. Stephens is better at separating the personal from the professional and blocking out the fact that they’re friends. Her outlook in general resembles that of someone who is playing with house money. She’s very relaxed about her career. There’s an intensity when she competes, but there’s this underlying sense that all will be good. She doesn’t define herself by her tennis. Sometimes that can lead to loose results, as we saw after the U.S. Open, but it also means that she can smile, go out there and not worry about too many distractions. That certainly helped her today.
It feels like Halep’s time to finally win one
Saturday’s matchup is an intriguing one, because both of these players are great movers and defenders, and at the same time neither is going to serve 15 aces. So often in these situations, it’s much more about handling the moment than the opponent. For Halep, winning her first Slam. For Stephens, winning her second in five months.
It’s difficult to ignore this cosmic sense suggesting this is Halep’s time. She’s beaten tougher opponents to get to this final. She’s the higher ranked player. She has more of a track record at Roland Garros. You just have a feeling that the tennis gods are going to reward Halep with her first major, which is certainly overdo.