PARIS (Reuters) - If a place in the French Open final were not a big enough prize, the world number one spot will also be at stake when third-ranked Karolina Pliskova meets number four Simona Halep at Roland Garros on Thursday.
U.S. Open runner-up Pliskova will be guaranteed toppling Germany’s Angelique Kerber if she prevails against Halep who would need to go on and take the title to seize the top ranking.
It would be tempting to suggest that Saturday’s champion will come from their sixth career clash.
But that would be to discount the threat of Latvia’s fearless youngster Jelena Ostapenko and Swiss 30th seed Timea Bacsinszky who are first on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Both have their birthdays on Thursday — Ostapenko her 20th and Bacsinszky her 28th — but only one of them will be celebrating with a maiden grand slam final.
Halep’s hopes of reaching a second French Open final, having lost to Maria Sharapova in 2014, looked over when she trailed by a set and 5-1 in her quarter-final against Elina Svitolina.
But the Romanian survived, saving a match point in the process, and will perhaps think her name is on the trophy.
“It’s going to be a very different match than today, it’s going to be like playing the ball machine,” Halep, who leads Pliskova 4-1 in head-to-heads, said.
Czech second seed Pliskova had never made it past the second round in Paris before this year and so had hardly given much thought to the possibility of becoming number one in the world.
“Coming into this tournament, there were a few people who told me, ‘you have to be in the final to be number one’. I was like, there is no chance I make the final here,” she said.
“And now it’s close, but it’s close and it’s far because I’m playing against somebody who I would say one of the best girls on clay. It’s not like you’re going to get it for free.”
Ostapenko thrashed 38 winners past former world number one Caroline Wozniacki to become the first teenager to reach the semi-finals since Ana Ivanovic in 2007.
There are many similarities with the Serb who also relied on an all-out attacking style and Ostapenko is unlikely to reel in her game against the vastly more experienced Bacsinszky.
Three-times French Open champion Mats Wilander has watched Ostapenko’s progress while working for broadcaster Eurosport and has liked what he has seen.
“Her chances are excellent if she plays with 90 percent of her ability, I think she would have a chance to win the whole thing,” Wilander told Reuters.
“She has so much power but the worrying thing is she throws in matches where she is less than 50 percent and she could beat herself. Is she mature enough to play Bacsinszky and not just close her eyes and blaze away?”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar