PETE ZIEBRON in CINCINNATI
Simona Halep in action at the Western & Southern Open. Photo Courtesy: Christopher Johnson, Grand Slam Magazine
Simona Halep was within two points of becoming world #1 last month. On Saturday, she put herself in position to reach the WTA pole position with a 6-2 6-1 win over Wild Card American Sloane Stephens at the Western & Southern Open. The Romanian plays 2017 Wimbledon Champion Garbine Muguruza for the Cincinnati title and if she wins, will become the 24th player to reach #1 in the women's game.
Halep needed just 55 minutes to defeat Stephens, who was playing in just her fourth tournament following foot surgery. The relentless play by the current world #2 snuffed out any efforts by Stephens to get into the match as she won 34 of the last 32 points in sweeping the last five games of the match.
The Romanian headed into this semifinal as the only player yet to drop a set at the Western & Southern Open. Although Stephens held serve to open the match, Halep also held and then proceeded to win the next four games as well to take a commanding 5-1 lead. Following a Stephens hold, Halep closed out the set to win it 6-2.
Just as she did to open the match, Stephens held serve to begin the second set. However it would be the last game that she would win as Halep steamrolled the rest of the way, winning 25 of the last 33 points in the final 5 games of the second set.
Halep attributed her sound play against Stephens to the fact that she played so well the day before in her win over Jo Konta: "I think the match from yesterday gave me a lot of confidence, and since yesterday I started to feel the game, to feel like I can hit the ball.
So today was much better. I moved very well today. I just feel good. That's maybe why I can play. I have no pressure."
Regarding the Final against Muguruza, I asked Halep to elaborate on her game plan for the match: "If I stay with my plan, I have a better chance. That's why I don't change anything for tomorrow (Sunday). Just going the same like these days.
I know that she has a lot of confidence coming with title from Wimbledon, so she's favorite, in my opinion. She's hitting the ball strong, but I already had two matches so I know how it's gonna come, the ball. But still, I just want to do the same and not thinking about the result. I just want to go there and enjoy moment."
With the Cincinnati title, Halep would become the new world #1. A win would also be her 40th of the season and since Indian Wells, the Romanian has reached the quarterfinals or better in her last 10 tournaments. The final will be played on Center Court beginning at 2 PM local time in Cincinnati.