By HOWARD FENDRICH
PARIS (AP) — Garbine Muguruza’s big strokes overwhelmed Maria Sharapova right from the start. Their French Open quarterfinal Wednesday was no contest at all, a 6-2, 6-1 one-way journey. Simona Halep went from out-of-sorts to on-target against Angelique Kerber, scrambling to every ball and staying the course to erase an early deficit. Halep pointed her right index finger at her temple when she eventually completed a 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-2 comeback to reach the semifinals, too.
“I never gave up. So I think that’s why I won today,” Halep said. “My head won it.” When the top-seeded Halep and No. 3 Muguruza meet Thursday, their contrasting styles will match up with plenty at stake. The winner earns a berth in the final at Roland Garros — plus the No. 1 ranking that currently belongs to Halep. “I have just to stay strong, to try to make her uncomfortable on court,” Halep said, “and to try to play my game.” The women got their matches done before rain arrived at Roland Garros, leaving the men’s quarterfinals suspended in progress.
That might very well have been a relief to 10-time champion Rafael Nadal, who was not at his best Wednesday and dropped a French Open set for the first time since 2015. Nadal lost the opener 6-4 against 11th-seeded Diego Schwartzman but began to play better after a rain delay of just under an hour. Nadal was serving for the second set at 5-3, 30-15, when another shower came and action was halted for the day. In the other men’s quarterfinal, No. 3 Marin Cilic and No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro were at 5-all in a first-set tiebreaker when the matchup of past U.S. Open champions was stopped.
In addition to Halep vs. Muguruza, the other women’s semifinal is the first at the French Open featuring two Americans in 16 years: No. 10 Sloane Stephens against No. 13 Madison Keys in a rematch of last year’s U.S. Open final. Stephens won that one, as well as the only other match the longtime friends, Fed Cup and Olympic teammates have played against each other. Muguruza had lost all three previous times she faced Sharapova, whose five Grand Slam titles include two at Roland Garros. But they hadn’t played since 2014, back before Muguruza was as confident and successful as she is these days.
Muguruza has not dropped a set in this year’s tournament and dominated Sharapova with booming groundstrokes and superb returning that earned six breaks. “When you’re facing somebody that also has an aggressive style of game,” Muguruza said about facing Sharapova, “I think it’s about who takes the command, who takes the first opportunity.”
Sharapova certainly didn’t do that. She double-faulted three times in the opening game, part of her 27 unforced errors. It took her 29 minutes just to gain a game, and by then she already trailed 4-0. “She did a lot of things better than I did,” Sharapova said.
Sharapova didn’t play a point in the fourth round, because Serena Williams pulled out of their much-anticipated showdown with an injured chest muscle. Muguruza essentially got that round off, too: Her opponent, Lesia Tsurenko, quit with an injury after only two games.
“Kind of a weird day,” Muguruza said. Muguruza leads Halep 3-1 head-to-head, but this is their first Grand Slam matchup. Here’s another key category in which Muguruza has the upper hand: 2-0 in major championships. Muguruza won the French Open in 2016, then Wimbledon last year. Halep, meanwhile, has participated in a trio of major finals, losing each.
That includes the French Open in 2014 and 2017, and the Australian Open in January. She has acknowledged having trouble handling her nerves, which is part of why she was so proud about the way she overcame Kerber, a two-time major champion and former No. 1. Like Sharapova, Halep trailed 4-0 at the outset. Like Sharapova, Halep was erratic early, making 30 unforced errors in the first set. But Halep figured things out. She started going for less, adding a little more lift to her shots and letting Kerber make the mistakes.
Over the last two sets, Halep made 16 unforced errors, half as many as Kerber, who was treated for a blister on her left foot early in the third. “No expectations, no pressure,” Halep said as she looked ahead to the semifinals, perhaps trying to persuade herself as much as anyone. “I just want to play as I did today, and as I did every day. If I do that, I will be OK after the match, no matter the result.”q