PARIS, France - No.3 seed Simona Halep put on a clay court clinic to withstand the high-octane game of No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova, ending the Czech's bid for No.1, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to return to the Roland Garros final and put herself one win away from the No.1 ranking herself.
"It's a great feeling. What can I say?" she noted in her post match press conference. "I feel like I have more experience. I'm happy, but I'm not that excited. I'm looking forward, actually, to play the final.
"Today was a great battle. Every point was very important. I felt that I had to run for every ball, be focused for every ball. So, I'm happy with my performance."
Halep came to Paris with the most impressive clay court resume in the field, reaching the semifinals of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, defending her Mutua Madrid Open title, and finishing runner-up at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.
"To be in the final, it's just a happiness thing. I just feel happy. Proud, I can say, because I think the mental part helped me a lot this tournament in all the matches, and today in the third set."
An injured ankle at the latter nearly derailed her progress, but Halep nonetheless reached the semifinals with the loss of only one set, roaring back from a set and 1-5 down to defeat Rome winner and No.5 seed Elina Svitolina in the hopes of reaching her first major final since 2014.
"I learned many things during the years, not just after that final, but also the semifinals in Wimbledon, and the US Open against [Flavia] Pennetta.
"I know how to be. I won't change anything."
Pliskova had a road filled with lower-ranked opposition, but much tougher matches as she was twice taken to a deciding set against Ekaterina Alexandrova and Veronica Cepede Royg, who won the first five games of their Round of 16 clash to start the second week.
"I proved again to myself if I play against the better players, against the top players, I can play really high-level tennis and that level doesn't have to be in the beginning of the tournament," Pliskova said after the match.
"I think I would have beaten 99% of the girls with the tennis I was playing today, so it was just unlucky that it was Simona today. I think she's one of the best on clay, maybe one of the best at this tournament. She loves this tournament."
The No.2 seed managed to find her footing to take out No.28 seed Caroline Garcia and put in an impressive performance against Halep, shaking off the loss of the first set to serve out the second and put herself a set away from wresting the No.1 ranking from Angelique Kerber.
"I'm happy that I was so close to win it. Obviously I know or we all know I was playing for World No.1, but I'm not that disappointed with this match."
Undaunted by Pliskova's aggressive barrage, Halep broke early in the deciding set with a stunning forehand passing shot and held a point for 5-1 on the Czech's serve two games later.
"I always had this fighting thing, but now I control it better and in a positive way," Halep said. "I feel good on court, and that my game was pretty strong today and all tournament. I hope in the final will be stronger. I need that."
The US Open finalist rebounded and broke back with a passing shot of her own, but her two biggest weapons let her down as a slew of missed first serves and a deep forehand cost her a comeback and put Halep back in the driver's seat.
To her credit, Halep dealt with the ebbs and flows of Pliskova's power game effortlessly, running behind the baseline to make her taller opponent hit one extra ball without sacrificing her own consistency in the process. With a service winner to close out the two hour encounter, the Romanian finished with 14 winners to 14 unforced errors, while Pliskova's 55 unforced errors canceled out her 45 winners.
"I heard many people around me say that I'm favorite, and I was really only honest when I said, 'I'm not. I'm not feeling that.' Of course I have the chance, because I played well in Madrid and Rome, but doesn't mean that it's gonna happen the same. But here I am.
"I'm really pleased with the way I have been these two weeks. Three weeks, actually. My coach is focused, like me, and we want just to keep this. I stay with my three boys, I can say: trainer, physio, and coach. Every night eating, same routine, and one more to go."
Standing between the No.3 seed and both her first Grand Slam title and the No.1 ranking is young hotshot Jelena Ostapenko, who survived wily veteran and former doubles partner Timea Bacsinszky, 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3.
"I never played against her. I don't know what to expect from her. I saw a little bit of her match today. In my opinion is similar to what I had today, so maybe's gonna be the same plan.
"You never know with this kind of player, so I have just to stay there for every ball. Every ball is important against them. So I will be there and ready to fight."