PARIS, France – No.3 seed Simona Halep is back into the French Open semifinals after putting together an epic comeback to oust No.5 seed Elina Svitolina.
The Romanian found herself down a set and 5-1, and even had to save match point, but she pulled off the escape act in spectacular fashion to advance 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-0.
As it happened: Halep saves match point to stun Svitolina in Paris
Next she will take on Karolina Pliskova for a spot in the final – and the WTA’s World No.1 ranking.
After current No.1 Angelique Kerber bowed out in the first round, both Halep and Pliskova have a shot at the top ranking, with Pliskova needing to reach the final to achieve it and Halep needing to win the title.
Halep had been steamrolling through the draw – yet to drop a set all tournament long, and her last match was a 6-1, 6-1 beatdown against Carla Suárez Navarro.
But in the quarterfinals Halep ran up against her first real test of the fortnight in the form of a familiar opponent: Elina Svitolina, who defeated her in a dramatic Rome final just over two weeks ago.
It looked like a whole different player against Svitolina on Court Suzanne Lenglen, though, as Halep couldn’t seem to find a crack in Svitolina’s solid offense. The Ukrainian covered back of court and kept the pressure on Halep to go for bigger, drawing out the errors, and rolled to an impressive 5-0 lead.
Halep took advantage of a handful of rare errors off the Ukrainian’s racquet to finally hold serve for the first time and get a foothold into the match.
But once the errors starting coming for Svitolina, they just didn’t stop – and Halep roared to life on the other side of the net even as her opponent took the set and edged ahead to a daunting 5-1 lead in the second.
Earlier in the season, a shock temporary split with her coach Darren Cahill forced Halep to reexamine her on-court mentality, with the Romanian vowing to improve her fighting spirit. Those changes showed in a big way as Halep dug her heels in to break Svitolina twice as she was serving for the match.
Halep reeled off five games in a row to bring up her first lead of the match at 6-5, but Svitolina saved four set points to take them into a tiebreak.
They stayed deadlocked throughout the tiebreak, with Svitolina edging ahead to bring up match point on Halep’s serve. Halep fought it off, and struck a netcord winner that barely floated over and into the court to sent the match into a deciding set.
The letdown from having the match on her racquet and letting it slip away seemed to take the wind out of Svitolina’s sails. Halep was focused and played almost flawless in the third – just one unforced error against 10 from the increasingly frustrated Ukrainian.
A timely ace sealed the match at the Romanian completed the comeback after a two-hour and six-minute battle.
“She was dominating the match,” Halep explained in her post-match press conference. “I just sat down at 5- 2, I said that the match is lost. So I did nothing to change something, to change the rhythm, that's it. It's over.
“And then I started to feel more relaxed - maybe because I thought it's finished - and I change the rhythm. I put some high balls. I just tried to make her move more, to open the court, and it came. I don't know how, but it was really good.
"But I believed that it's gonna come, it's gonna turn something around, and that's it. I'm just happy. I am not thinking about how it was. I just take the fight thing, that I was fighting till the end, and I enjoy."