PARIS (CNN) – Simona Halep reached her second straight French Open final and retained her No. 1 ranking by defeating Garbine Muguruza 6-1 6-4 at Roland Garros on Thursday. Her opponent in the title match will be Sloane Stephens, who won the all-American battle with Madison Keys 6-4 6-4.
Halep will be the favorite in Paris on Saturday, given not only her ranking but a 5-2 head-to-head record against Stephens. However, the 10th seed has done something Halep has not — win a grand slam final. She did so by topping Keys at the U.S. Open in September.
Stephens also became the first American other than Serena Williams or Venus Williams to reach the French Open final since Jennifer Capriati in 2001.
Both Halep and Stephens — two of the best movers in the game — impressed on Court Philippe-Chatrier as Wednesday’s rain gave way to sunny, warm conditions. After storming through the first set in 37 minutes, Halep recovered from a 4-2 deficit in the second. Halep survived at 4-4 — saving three break points in a 10-minute game — and then broke to love to ensure a spot in the final.
Had 2016 winner Muguruza prevailed, the Spaniard would have replaced Halep atop the rankings on Monday.
While Halep will be pleased to keep her lofty ranking, she is desperate to finally win a major after three losses in finals — all in three agonizing sets. Twelve months ago, Halep relinquished a set and break advantage to the free swinging Jelena Ostapenko at Roland Garros.
Muguruza hadn’t dropped a set en route to the semifinals, but it was the first time that she faced a counterpuncher — and one who loves playing on the clay. The reigning Wimbledon champion claimed less than half of her service points. The last time they met in the Cincinnati final last August, it was a different tale. Muguruza relinquished one game.
Halep has now triumphed in both of their clay-court duels.
Meanwhile, when Stephens beat Keys in New York, the match lasted 61 minutes. But Keys had a leg injury which may have contributed to her loss. Keys appeared to be just fine physically Thursday, but again misfired, making 41 unforced errors in one hour and 17 minutes.
Stephens took control by breaking for 3-1 in the first and bteaking early in the second set as well. Some nerves might have surfaced when Stephens tried to serve out the semifinal at 5-2, but she succeeded at the second time of asking. Stephens improved to 3-0 against her friend, not conceding a set.
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