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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, September 20, 2020

Italy is Simona Halep’s favorite vacation destination.

Forced to a final set today, Halep gave Garbine Muguruza a guided tour of Court Centrale then tamed a late uprising continuing her quest for her first Rome title.

More: Schwartzman Stuns Nadal in Rome

In a clash of Roland Garros champions, Halep topped Muguruza 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 reaching her third Rome final in the past four years.

This semifinal skirmish delivered bold winners, wild shifts in momentum and Halep opening a 5-1 lead in the final set only to see Muguruza make one final determined push.

Ultimately, Halep’s precision at crunch time combined with Muguruza’s misfires on second serve—she double faulted on four break points including consecutive double faults to end the match—proved decisive. Halep converted nine of 18 break points and exploited eight double faults from her opponent improving to an immaculate 6-0 in three-setters this season.

“It was a tough battle as I expected,” Muguruza said. “Physically today, I struggled. The fifth match in short days so I felt it since a long time not playing matches in a row. Since the beginning, I knew today I was going to struggle a little bit since I wasn’t feeling as fresh as probably I wished to face this kind of opponent.

“But even though I wasn’t my best, I’m pretty happy with my performance, my fighting spirit. I think far from my best I took her to tough moments and almost turned it around.”

The red-hot Romanian scored her 13th straight win raising her record to 19-2 as she closes to within one win of realizing her ultimate dream.

"Now it’s the most important goal. I really want to win this tournament," Halep said prior to this semifinal. "I love playing here. I did semifinals five times so probably I will have a chance.

"It’s one of the biggest goals because I love Rome, I love Italy. Every time I have a chance I have holiday here so I feel really good when I play here in Italy.”

Tennis Express

The two-time Rome runner-up will play for her 22nd career championship—and third title in a row following triumphs in Prague and Doha—when she meets the winner of the all-Czech semifinal between reigning Rome champion Karolina Pliskova and 2019 Roland Garros finalist Marketa Vondrousova

A sharp Halep broke to start today’s first semifinal racing out to a 5-1 lead. Counterpunching crisply against the heavier hitter, Halep broke three times in Muguruza’s first five service games snatching a one-set lead.

At the end of the first set, the ninth-seeded Spaniard took treatment for an apparent lower back or upper left leg injury. Muguruza, who had knocked off former Grand Slam champions Sloane Stephens and Victoria Azarenka en route to the semifinals, left the court for treatment and returned with her upper left thigh heavily strapped.

With Roland Garros starting in a week, would Muguruza retire to save her health and strength for Paris?

The former world No. 1 was in no mood for surrender.

Muguruza double faulted the break in the sixth game but came right back slashing a backhand down the line to help earn her second straight break back for 3-4.

Eight months after she topped Halep in the Australian Open semifinals 7-6, 7-5, Muguruza made a defiant stand. Banging a running forehand strike down the line, she evened it up after eight games.

Seeing those strikes stressed Halep. The world No. 2, who played such clean tennis in the opener, was suddenly jittery showing cracks in her typically air-tight ground game Halep sailed successive drives as Muguruza broke again for her first lead of the day at 5-4.

Extending a rally with a sliding slice forehand, Muguruza completed a complete role reversal: Now she was running everything down striking with confidence while a skittish Halep was leaking errors. Muguruza charged through a love hold to force a final set exchanging fist pumps with coach Conchita Martinez.

A half-hour earlier, it looked like Muguruza might pull the plug in pain then she found herself 2-4 and responded with a four-game surge.

The 28-year-old Romanian reset wearing a white Nike baseball cap to start the final set with a tricky deuce hold.

Muguruza double faulted away the break—the third time she double faulted down break point—as Halep ran through eight of 11 points staking a 3-0 lead.

Regaining her rhythm and playing crosscourt angles to spread the court and test Muguruza’s movement, Halep scored her seventh break stretching her lead to 4-0.

Eventually, Halep stretched her lead to 5-1, just as she had in the first set.

At that point the end seemed inevitable, but Muguruza showed grit breaking twice as Halep prematurely pulled the trigger when serving for the final the first time.

When Halep served for the match again at 5-3, Muguruza came up with some magical shotmaking. The Spaniard carved out a slice forehand short in the court, roped a return winner down the line then flicked back a full stretch forehand scoring her third straight break to get back on serve.

Undaunted by those serving stumbles, Halep drove successive deep returns then exploited consecutive double faults from Muguruza to close a fierce fight with an unfortunate double double fault end.

Halep scored her third clay-court win over Muguruza in as many meetings though the Spaniard still leads their head-to-head series at 4-3.

Still, the former French Open champions gave us a glimpse of a possible Roland Garros showdown. Oddschecker lists Halep as a 7/2 favorite to win Roland Garros with Muguruza at 9/1.


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