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Can Halep finally make good in Paris?
Of the four women contesting the semi-finals at Roland Garros on Friday, only Simona Halep has played in the final in Paris. But it was an unhappy appearance. She lost to Maria Sharapova. Since that defeat to the Russian in 2014, Halep has failed to reach the latter stages of the tournament.
Nevertheless with her strong showing during the clay court season in which she reached the semi-final in Stuttgart in April, claimed the title in Madrid and was the finalist in Rome in May, she was anointed a potential winner of the 2017 title in Paris.
The 25-year-old’s response to that billing was as smart as her tennis: there are around 15 players who could win the crown. And her perspicacity was borne out on the opening day of Roland Garros when the top seed Angelique Kerber lost to the Russian Ekatarina Makarova.
The seeds have been scattered in the top half of the draw while in the bottom half, order has been respected and Haelp will take on second seed Karolina Pliskova who is enjoying her best run at Roland Garros in her sixth visit.
The 25-year-old Czech goes into the encounter with a poor record. She has won only one of their five encounters with Halep. However they have never met on clay.
"It is going to be a tough match," said Pliskova. "She's moving well and not missing many shots. I will have to be aggressive if I want to have a chance."
Halep pulled off one of the most spectacular comebacks to reach the last four. She was a set down and trailing 1-5 in the second set against Elina Svitolina. The Ukrainian squandered her lead and could not exploit a match point in the second set tiebreak at 6-5 up. Halep saved it and won the next two points to level the match.
Svitolina hardly registered in the decider as Halep romped home 6-0. "I can say it's special because it was the quarter-final of a Grand Slam. The best thing is that I didn't give up. So this is the most important thing for me."
Under normal circumstances, birthday celebrations would be to the fore of Timea Bacsinszky and Jelena Ostapenko’s thoughts. But revelries will be deferred for the players who are 28 and 20 respectively on the day of their semi-final. They have never played a singles match on the tour, though they have featured as a doubles pair.
Ostapenko came from a set down to bulldoze her way past 11th seed Caroline Wozniacki in the quarter-final while Bacsinszky was at her wily best in the wind to flummox 13th seed Kristina Mladenovic who had dispatched the defending champion Garbine Muguruza in the fourth round.
"I actually didn't expect to celebrate my birthday here in Paris," said Ostapenko. "But I'm really happy it's here. I'm going to enjoy it, but I will have plans after the tournament."
To read our coverage of Roland Garros 2017, click here.