By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) – Former French Open runner-up Simona Halep staged a remarkable fightback and saved a match point to reach the semi-finals with a 3-6 7-6(6) 6-0 win over Elina Svitolina on Wednesday.
Romanian third seed Halep trailed by a set and 5-1 against the hard-hitting fifth seed but somehow dug herself out of a hole before storming to victory to set up a semi-final against Czech second seed Karolina Pliskova.
Ukrainian Svitolina saved four set points at 5-6 in the second and then had a match point in the tiebreak which Halep saved with a brave forehand that kissed the sideline and followed that with an improvised backhand winner.
A rejuvenated Halep clinched the second set with a forehand winner and predictably swept through the decider as Svitolina’s spirit sagged, sealing victory with an ace.
“She played unbelievable tennis in the first set until the end of the second set,” Halep told reporters. “When I sat down at 2-5 (in the second set) I just said the match is lost.
“Then I started to feel more relaxed maybe because I thought it’s finished. I changed the rhythm. I put some high balls. I just tried to make her move more.
“She played well. Then I played better. So all is good.”
Halep will face second-seeded Czech Karolina Pliskova in the last four, while in the other half of the draw Latvian teenager Jelena Ostapenko will take on Swiss Timea Bacsinszky.
Of all the quarter-finalists, none of whom had won a major, Halep looked the more likely champion with her claycourt pedigree and a run to the 2014 final when she was beaten by Russian Maria Sharapova.
If she needed any more incentive, she can also become world number one by winning the title.
Yet when the match started in front of a Suzanne Lenglen court crowd that had just witnessed men’s champion Novak Djokovic being routed by Dominic Thiem, Halep looked to be going out of the tournament in sympathy with the Serb.
While there was no obvious sign of the ankle problem the 25-year-old sustained in Rome, she could not get going and slumped 5-0 down before at least making the set score respectable.
But Svitolina, bidding to become Ukraine’s first female grand slam semi-finalist after a stellar year in which she has won four titles, charged into a 5-1 lead in the second set.
Again Halep showed her mettle to stay alive but it still seemed in vain until she leveled at 5-5 and then went 40-0 up on Svitolina’s serve before the Ukrainian rallied to take the set into a tiebreak.
After saving the match point, admitting later that she had not even realized it was one, Halep got another set point thanks to a wayward Svitolina forehand and sealed the set with an outrageous netcord that dribbled over.
From there on it was one way traffic in a 20-minute decider.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)