ROME, Italy -- World No.1 Simona Halep of Romania will stay at the top ranking for at least one more week, as she dispatched No.7 seed Caroline Garcia of France, 6-2, 6-3, on Friday night to reach the semifinals at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.
"In my opinion, it was a good match," Halep told the press, after the contest. "I just wanted to push [Garcia] back, and use good depth on the ball, and I think I did it pretty well. She made some mistakes, I got confident and I knew what I’d have to play against her, so I think I played a good level of tennis. "
By going one round further than Caroline Wozniacki in Rome, Halep has guaranteed that she will remain at the top spot in the WTA rankings on Monday, which will certainly give her the No.1 seed at the French Open, the second Grand Slam event of the year.
"I knew before the match that I’d have to win to keep the No.1," said Halep. "I’m really happy I was able to keep the No.1 by winning my own match, so it’s a nice feeling. I didn’t feel pressure, you could see that I played very relaxed. I’m not thinking that much about this anymore, but it’s nice to know that it’s for No.1."
Last year's Rome runner-up Halep took down Garcia for the fourth time in their five meetings, ousting the Frenchwoman in 73 minutes. Halep and Garcia were nearly equal in winners, but Garcia had 37 unforced errors, 17 more than the Romanian's error count.
Halep will take on former World No.1 Maria Sharapova of Russia in a highly intriguing semifinal showdown. Sharapova overcame reigning Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko earlier on Friday, in a three-hour and 11-minute barnburner, which was the longest match of the 2018 clay-court season thus far.
"I expect a tough one for sure, always it’s been tough against [Sharapova]," said Halep. "But I know I have my chance, so if I play my game, it will be a good match. I will try to do my best to win the match, but I don’t expect anything. I’m just going on court and giving my best. That’s what I want."
Sharapova leads the head-to-head against Halep 7-1, including wins in the 2014 French Open final and the first round of the 2017 US Open. However, Halep won their most recent meeting, at the China Open last year. "I feel that the match is open, of course anyone can win, but I’m not thinking about the previous matches," Halep continued. "I want to think about tomorrow’s match, and we will see."
The hotly anticipated encounter between Halep and Garcia started with five breaks of service, as the returners teed off on tentative deliveries. Halep in particular struggled mightily, as the top seed could only win one out of nine points in her first two service games.
Despite the rough start, though, Halep was the first to pull her serve together, and she crucially held for 4-2, as Garcia sprayed forehands wide. The set decisively turned at that juncture, as Garcia needed to hold serve to stay within touching distance, but hit too many miscues to set up double break point for Halep. The Romanian crushed a backhand winner on her first chance in the game to lead 5-2.
Suddenly, Halep’s serve went to high gear, and she hit back-to-back aces to garner double set point. A double fault erased one chance to close out the opening frame, but on the second opportunity, Garcia punched a backhand volley into the net, and Halep had a one-set lead. Both players had six winners in the set, but Garcia had 19 unforced errors, to only ten for Halep.
Garcia started the second set with grit, fending off two break points before holding for 1-0. But the Frenchwoman lost a 40-15 advantage in her next service game, dropping the last four points with unforced errors to give Halep a 2-1 lead. By then, Halep was cruising on serve, and she held at love for 3-1, having won eight of the first nine points on her delivery in the set.
World No.7 Garcia regrouped to hold for 3-2 and stay within sight, but Halep was too strong in the Frenchwoman’s next service game. At 4-2, Halep followed a successful drop shot with a backhand crosscourt winner to reach double break point, and a forehand error into the net by Garcia gave Halep a 5-2 lead and the chance to serve out the match.
Garcia sprang to life in that game, hitting forehand service returns for clean winners twice in a row, to get one break back. But at 5-3, 30-30, Halep blasted a forehand winner crosscourt to earn a match point. There, the Romanian chased down a ball and sent a backhand down the line for a winner, ending the contest and booking a semifinal spot in Rome.