Darren Cahill’s is an inscrutable face. Sitting high-up in the player’s box, battling emotions, he appears ready to break into a stride at the hint of a sign.
Edgy and eager, collected yet calculating. And when world No.1 Simona Halep threw up her arms in celebration at the end of her 92-minute semifinal against Garbine Muguruza, the Aussie, her coach of three years, was quickly on his feet applauding the 26-year-old’s effervescent charge.
There was plenty riding on this French Open last-four clash. Up against the big-hitting 2016 champion, it was among other things a play-off for the numero uno ranking, and per force a place in Saturday’s final.
The top-seed finished at the receiving end here in 2014 (to Maria Sharapova) and 2017 (to Jelena Ostapenko, against who she led by a set and 3-0), besides making the final in Melbourne, where she lost to Caroline Wozniacki in January.
Halep, tennis’ sentimental favourite, won 6-1, 6-4 in a spectacular exhibition of decisive tennis to make her fourth major final and second successive one. In Saturday’s title round she’ll face the US Open champion Sloane Stephens, who put out compatriot Madison Keys 6-4, 6-4.
“It was a very good level, the whole match, even if the first set was 6-1. She didn’t give up a point. It was very nice to play like that,” a beaming Halep, who trailed Muguruza 1-3 in head-to-head clashes, said. The 26-year-old’s lone win coming on clay three years ago on Stuttgart.
“I’m really happy that I could beat a player like Muguruza. She’s a great player and it’s always tough against her. I played very well. And even if I repeat it, I played the best match here. Every day I play better and that makes me happy.”
Halep was determinedly solid on Thursday. She had 16 winners, 11 of them coming off the forehand side. Muguruza the bigger striker of the ball, had only 14. Halep, who started attacking from the start, was as tidy as she was effective on the day, finishing with six fewer errors than her opponent’s count of 31.
“Today I felt good on court, I felt positive. I started to play very well from the beginning,” Halep said, adding that the long-drawn ninth game of the second set was the deal sealer. “It was the most important game of the match. The fact that I could win that long game, I won the next one easy, so it was a little bit mental part in the last game. I didn’t give up. I stayed calm, I stayed focused which is the most important thing in my game.”
Muguruza applauded Halep, who had the crowd behind her. “She gave not a lot of opportunities, I didn’t really took them right away,” the 24-year-old Spaniard said. “I was always behind a little bit in the score. I felt in the second set it was very even. It was very different from the first set. I had few chances there and I didn’t took them. I paid the price later because she speeded it up.”
The world No.1 refused to think of the final, saying she preferred to celebrate her semifinal victory before thinking of the title clash. “I have more experience now. I feel calm. I feel that I have to enjoy it today, the victory, because it’s a great match,” she explained. “I have two more days until I will play the final. I will stay chill, I will relax. And then we will see what is going to happen on Saturday, but for sure I will fight for every ball.”