CINCINNATI, OH, USA - No.2 seed Simona Halep reached the final of the Western & Southern Open for the second time in her career on Saturday, cruising past American wild card Sloane Stephens, 6-2, 6-1.
"I played my best, I think, match on hard court so far," said Halep after the match. "I think the match from yesterday gave me a lot of confidence, and since yesterday I started to feel the game, to feel that I can hit the ball. So today was much better. I moved very well today. I just feel good."
Halep and Stephens had played six times previously, with Halep holding a 4-2 edge in their head-to-head. Most recently, they were pitted against each other in the first round of Washington two weeks ago, where the Romanian advanced with a 7-6(3), 6-0 victory.
The match started with some scintillating rallies, as two of the speediest players on tour attempted to outshine each other through a combination of well-placed groundstrokes and defensive prowess.
But it was Halep who claimed the first lead, as Stephens misfired on a forehand to give the second seed the momentum. An insurance break soon followed when a cracking forehand winner put Halep up 4-1, and she calmly served out the set 6-2 when Stephens put a backhand service return into the net.
Stephens could not get a look in during Halep's service games in the first set, as Halep was getting 84% of her first serves in, and won 62% of those points.
Stephens' strong month, which included an additional semifinal appearance last week in Toronto, seemed to be catching up with her, particularly after surviving two matches on Friday against Ekaterina Makarova and Julia Goerges.
"Three matches in 24 hours is never easy," acknowledged Stephens after the match. "I actually didn't think I played that badly. I think she's just a little bit fresher and it just wasn't a great day."
The American showed signs of life in the opening game of the second set, when she hit a superb dropshot winner to hold for 1-0. But Halep would not be denied, breaking in Stephens' next service game, and claiming an insurance break with a return winner for a 4-1 lead.
It was smooth sailing for Halep from there, and she completed a six-game run to close out the match after Stephens sent a backhand long on Halep's second match point.
Although Halep's first serve percentage dipped in the second set, she was even more efficient on her service point winning percentage (including 86% of second service points won), and did not face a break point in the entire match.
Halep advances to the Cincinnati final for the second time in her career (2015 runner-up, lost to Serena Williams), where she will face No.4 seed and Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza on Sunday.
"I know that she has a lot of confidence coming with title from Wimbledon, so she's favorite, in my opinion," said Halep. "She's hitting the ball strong, but I had already two matches, so I know how it's gonna come, the ball. But still, I want just to do the same and am not thinking about the result. I just want to go there and enjoy the moment."
If Halep wins the title, she will claim the World No.1 ranking for the first time in her career. "I think it's something special to get No. 1 in the world," said Halep, even though she noted that the race to the top ranking is filled with contenders. "Everyone can get to No.1 now. The ranking is close. But I am so close. I really want that. So we will see."