ROME, Italy - With tensions high, nearly two hours on the match clock, and one set between her and a repeat appearance in the final, how was World No.1 Simona Halep feeling as she took the court for a final set against three-time champion Maria Sharapova in Rome on Saturday?
Not how you might expect.
"I knew that I'm stronger physically on clay, and that's why I was relaxed as the match was going in the third set," the Romanian revealed to reporters after a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 semifinal victory at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.
"I was not worried that I would get tired. I was confident in that direction. It's first time when I beat her on clay, so it's also special. It gives me confidence because I was able to play one of my best matches so far."
Despite leading by a break three times in the opening set, Halep was unable to maintain an early lead and needed to battle from behind for a well-earned victory in nearly two-and-a-half hours against the former World No.1 and three-time champion in the Italian capital.
"[My] serve didn't work that well today, but also, she's a good returner so it's always tough. I was confident to return her serve, and I think I did a great job today, all match," Halep assessed.
"I just changed a little bit the game. I tried to be aggressive the whole match, even if sometimes I went too far. I think I played the best match on clay, and I'm really happy that -- even if she played her best, in my opinion today -- I won the match."
Coupled with better play as the match wore on, Halep also credited a unique and candid conversation with coach Darren Cahill after the first set with giving her the emotional release she needed to reset herself in the encounter.
"He told me actually after the match that I talked a lot. I don't do very often that, but I just wanted to tell him what I feel, so I was really honest," she said. "I was a little bit afraid because I serve pretty well. I can serve pretty well, but when I'm not confident and when I'm not relaxed, it can be a little bit weaker.
"That happened in the first set, but then, I just relaxed myself and I said that, 'Always, my serve will help me...I have just to be confident.' And it worked much better."
As it happened: Halep holds off Sharapova in Rome semifinal
Halep's win sets up a championship match against World No.4 Elina Svitolina for the second straight season. Last year in the final, the Romanian led by a set only to fall 4–6, 7–5, 6–1 - and also suffered an ankle injury midway through the match.
Svitolina leads the pair's overall head-to-head 3-2, but they've split two career meetings on clay. After the Rome defeat, Halep pulled off a stunning escape against the Ukrainian a fortnight later in Paris, coming from a set and 5-1 down in the second to win in the quarterfinals of last year's French Open, 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-0.
"It is nice that we are again in the finals, both of us. It's gonna be a nice match, in my opinion, but I hope I don't get injured again," the World No.1 said.
"I started well last year, so the game is there. I know how to play, but still, she's a very tough opponent. She's a great player. I have to be focused on myself a lot to actually plan a little bit what I have to do, and then just go there and enjoy the match.
"It's a great opportunity. It's a great challenge. I have just to play my best."