PARIS (Reuters) - Top seed Simona Halep fought back to triumph in a bruising French Open quarter-final against Germany’s Angelique Kerber and stand two wins away from her first Grand Slam title.
The Romanian, who lost in last year’s final at Roland Garros, defeated Kerber 6-7(2) 6-3 6-2 to book a clash with Garbine Muguruza in the last four.
World number one Halep made a slow start, misfiring on her first serve and spraying her groundstrokes wide early on in a duel that lasted more than two hours, before steadily wearing down her opponent.
“I rushed too much at the beginning,” Halep told a news conference. “It was tough because her ball is very low, and you don’t have many chances to finish the points from there.”
Going into the second set, Halep changed her tactics
“I didn’t play flat any more, more top-spin, and I made her run a little bit more,” she said.
Halep, who has lost all three of her Grand Slam finals — including the Australian Open, to Caroline Wozniacki, in January — arrived in Paris on a hot streak, reaching at least the quarter-finals in her last nine claycourt tournaments and losing only one set on her way to facing Kerber in Paris.
But it was the German who started the stronger, out-hitting her rival with lethal accuracy, to win the first four games as Halep struggled to find her serving rhythm and peppered the tramlines with unforced errors.
Slowly the normally aggressive baseliner clawed her way back into the contest, winning three straight games as both players struggled to hold serve in a marathon opening set.
Kerber eventually prevailed in a tiebreak, but Halep came out all guns blazing in the second, firing baseline bullets at her opponent, who tried to cling on against the onslaught.
But by the third set Halep had broken the German’s defenses — and her resolve — as she banged in 76 percent of her first serves, with only half the unforced errors of her opponent.
“It’s tough against her. (It) shows me that I have enough patience, I have enough power inside to stay calm,” Halep said.
Halep’s win knocked Caroline Wozniacki out of the race to be number one in next week’s rankings, and set up a winner-takes-all match against Spain’s Muguruza in Thursday’s semi-final.
A Grand Slam win in Paris would bring redemption for Halep, who lost in the 2017 French Open final against Jelena Ostapenko after leading by a set and three games.
Reporting by Richard Lough,; Editing by Neville Dalton and Ed Osmond