Sloane Stephens Seeks Second Grand Slam After Securing Spot In French Open Finals

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Sloane Stephen French Open
Sloane Stephens of the U.S. clenches her fist after defeating compatriot Madison Keys during in semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, Thursday, June 7, 2018 in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

PARIS (AP) — 10th-seeded Sloane Stephens had never made it past the fourth round in Paris until now. After sitting out nearly a year because of an injured right foot that needed surgery in January 2017, she has soared up the rankings and now made it to her second major final in the past ninth months. Stephens beat a mistake-prone Madison Keys 6-4, 6-4 on Thursday in the first all-American semifinal at Roland Garros since 2002.

“Another great opportunity on Saturday and I’m really looking forward to it,” said Stephens, whose late father, John, was the 1988 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year with the New England Patriots.

She improved to 3-0 against her longtime pal and Fed Cup teammate Keys, including their U.S. Open final last September.

“It’s always hard playing someone from your country and such a good friend,” Stephens said, “so I was really pleased to be able to get through that and play some good tennis.”

Stephens is an incredibly talented defensive player, and she kept stretching points until Keys would err. In all, Keys made 41 unforced errors, 30 more than Stephens.

The other semifinal match saw Simona Halep emphatically end the impressive French Open run of 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza with a 6-1, 6-4 victory.

Halep’s fourth chance to win her first Grand Slam title will come against reigning U.S. Open champion Stephens on Saturday.

Halep assured herself of retaining the No. 1 ranking and reached her third final in Paris. She lost both of the previous ones in three sets, to Maria Sharapova in 2014 and to Jelena Ostapenko in 2017.

“I will try my best,” Halep told the crowd at Court Phillipe Chatrier, “and hopefully I will be better than last year.”

The Romanian also came up one victory shy of a major championship at the Australian Open in January, beaten there by Caroline Wozniacki.

That means Saturday’s final at the French Open will be Halep’s third title match in the past five Grand Slam tournaments.

“I’m happy,” she said, “that I can have another chance.”

Muguruza, a two-time major champion, entered the semifinals having not lost a set in the tournament. She also was coming off a lopsided victory in the quarterfinals a day earlier, overwhelming five-time major champion Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-1.

But it took Muguruza quite a while to get going against Halep, who managed to keep sending ball after ball back over the net.

Backed by fans who loudly chanted her first name between games, Halep went ahead 3-0 in only 15 minutes with the help of only one winner. Of her first 14 points, 13 arrived via errors by Muguruza — nine unforced, four forced.

It was 5-0 by the time Muguruza eventually claimed a game.

The second set was more of a test for Halep, who was ahead by a set and 3-0 before falling apart against Ostapenko a year ago.

Muguruza’s last stand came at 4-all in the second set, a 13-minute game in which she held three break points. But she failed to convert any of those, and Halep held there, before breaking at love to end it.

In two rain-interrupted men’s quarterfinals that were suspended on Wednesday evening, No. 1 Rafael Nadal completed a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 comeback over 11th-seeded Diego Schwartzman, and No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro defeated No. 3 Marin Cilic 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5.

Nadal reached his 11th French Open semifinal as he bids for a record-extending 11th title at the clay-court major. Del Potro got back to the semifinals in Paris for the first time since 2009.

They will play each other on Friday, when the other men’s semifinal is No. 7 Dominic Thiem of Austria against 72nd-ranked Marco Cecchinato of Italy.

Associated Press contributed to this story.

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