RG day 12 diary and highlights: Halep means business

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Job not done yet: Simona Halep.

“I’m not finished,” said Simona Halep, interrupting a reporter mid-question.

He was trying to ask her how proud she was of herself this tournament, irrespective of the result of Saturday’s final. For Halep, the goal is very clear, and it has everything to do with Saturday’s final so you can’t just ask her to ignore it for a second to answer a question.

Halep’s press conference after she beat world No3 Karolina Pliskova in three sets on Thursday can be summarised in one sentence. The Romanian is in it to win it.

There were these implicit messages in her answers that all lead to the same conclusion: She won’t be celebrating this semi-final win because her tournament isn’t over and she wants to finish the job this time, unlike her near-miss against Maria Sharapova in the 2014 Roland Garros final.

“What I can say is about the ankle, the only one I think. I don’t know how it stays okay there. Anyway, I feel during the match the pain, but I don’t care. I’m not thinking about that,” said Halep

“But to be in the final, it’s just a happiness thing. I just feel happy. Proud, I can say, because I think the mental part helped me a lot this tournament in all the matches. So I’m good. I’m happy. I just want to remain focused.”

She takes on 20-year-old Latvian Jelena Ostapenko, who only made it to her first Grand Slam third round last January in Australia and now finds herself in the final of the French Open after taking out No30 seed Timea Bacsinszky in three sets.

Halep enters this contest as the heavy favourite, having dominated most of this clay season. She will also be playing for the No1 ranking. If she wins, she overtakes Angelique Kerber at the top of the charts.

Her vanquished opponent on Thursday, Pliskova, is backing her all the way to take home a first Grand Slam trophy.

“No doubt that Ostapenko she’s having a good run here, and she’s dangerous player for everybody, I think, but I would bet everything I have on Simona,” said a deadpan Pliskova.

Halep did everything she could to appear cheerful and relaxed yet somehow at the same time focused and business-like.

“I’m of course happy, but I’m not that excited. I’m looking forward, actually, to play it (the final). I’m okay. I’m feeling good,” said the No3 seed.

She has been in similar situations several times before, having made deep runs in multiple majors, and knows what to do at this point.

“I learned many things during the years, not just after that final (in Roland Garros 2014). Also semi-finals in Wimbledon (2014). Then US Open against Pennetta (2015) before that match,” said Halep.

“So I know how to be. I don’t change anything. It’s just natural coming. Nothing special. It’s of course a big match. It’s a big challenge, as well. I will play a very young player. There is nothing to lose. I have just a big chance to get to things. I will go there and give my everything, for sure.”

Halep’s determination has been becoming more and more evident with every match this fortnight and it’s remarkable how far she’s come especially considering she came to Paris with a serious ankle injury she had picked up in the final in Rome. She wasn’t sure she was going to compete at Roland Garros.

“I was scared, because they told me that it’s broken. I had no idea what does it mean,” she explained. “But I refused to accept that I cannot play, so I think I recovered faster mentally because of the positive thinking, and I really wanted to be here. So didn’t matter what the scan showed.”

She’s not shying away from the task at hand and knows there will be a lot on the line on Saturday.

“I will play for two things: My first Grand Slam and No1 in the world. It’s a big challenge, a big chance. I think I have the game. I have the mentality to win, but it’s gonna be tough,” she said.

I asked Halep at the end of the press conference if she’s ever spoken to her manager and fellow Romanian, Virginia Ruzici, about her experience winning Roland Garros in 1978.

This time, Halep cracks a joke.

“I just want to win it to beat her,” she says with a laugh.

We’ll find out soon enough if she can pull it off.

Meanwhile, Bacsinszky gave yet another top-notch press conference after her loss to Ostapenko and was asked to use three words to describe her Roland Garros 2017 experience. Anyone who knows the Swiss would know that asking her to say anything in just three words is a tall order.

“Just three? It’s a nightmare. I cannot. You have time? The first word which is coming, to be ‘privileged’,” she began.

“It’s a very strong word for me. ‘Limitless’, like I’m trying every day. I have the last word – but I’m thinking right now of doing the same tattoo as Stan. So I think he did, as well, two semi-finals before winning a Slam, right? I’m on the good way.

“No. And the last is ‘true love’. True love for Paris, for this tournament, for the French Open, for the clay, for the atmosphere, for the people here, yeah, many things.”

She tried!

Quotes of the day

“I don’t think we can ever see another guy like this. I always ask where he stop his spaceship around, like Roger. It’s nice you see these guys playing together. I’m sure that one make the other been much better that they normally will do without these kind of competition.”
— Guga Kuerten, like us, thinks Rafael Nadal is from another planet.

Q. Could you tell us what was going on in your head when you’re down two match points? What did you tell each other? Rohan Bopanna: We were down?
Q. 9-7. Rohan Bopanna: I’m just joking.
— Mixed doubles champion Bopanna during his post-victory press conference.

“What’s the point difference that we have? Ah, only one? Ah, bad luck. Okay. It’s a tough one. I cry now or later?”
— Bacsinszky when she realised she had won just one less point than her opponent Jelena Ostapenko in their semi-final on Thursday.

“I would, like, compare that to maybe Sharapova on some ways because before, at the beginning of her career, she was more saying, ‘Oh, I feel like Bambi on the ice’ or something like that. And Ostapenko said probably the same last year.”
— Bacsinszky on Ostapenko’s improved movement.

“I’m not ashamed to say that she played better. She was braver. She had more courage. She was more successful.”
— Bacsinszky really is a quote machine.

“I think I will beat 99 per cent of the girls with this tennis that I was playing today, so just unlucky that it was Simona today there.”
— Karolina Pliskova’s brutal honesty is refreshing.

“I was almost celebrating after the first round what I won. So I take those 700 points right now.”
— Pliskova sure did surprise herself by making the semi-finals

Stats of the day

1 – Ostapenko is the first ever Latvian – man or woman – to reach a Grand Slam final.

1 – Halep is one win away from the world No1 ranking and would be the first Romanian woman to ever reach the top spot if she does.

2 – Halep is trying to become just the second Romanian woman to win a Grand Slam.

46 – The Roland Garros champion will be the 46th different Grand Slam winner in the Open Era.

50 – winners and 45 unforced errors for Ostapenko against Bacsinszky in the semis.

245 – winners for Ostapenko this fortnight through six matches. She’s averaging 40.8 winners per match.

Tennis hipster of the day

Hugh Grant, who once attended a first round match in Bastad, was in the stands on Thursday for the Ostapenko-Bacsinszky semi-final. Class!

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Stats and quotes you need to know ahead of Nadal-Thiem RG semi-final

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Fourth meeting this season: Thiem and Nadal.

The mother of all clay-court showdowns will take place on Court Philippe Chatrier on Friday when Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem – the two players with the most clay wins this season (both have 22) – face off in the Roland Garros semi-finals.

All six of their previous meetings have come on clay and this will be their fourth meeting in the last six weeks. Nadal beat Thiem in the Barcelona and Madrid finals before the 23-year-old Austrian got his revenge in the Rome quarter-finals.

Neither player has dropped a set this fortnight and the match is being described as a virtual final.

Thiem took out Novak Djokovic in straight sets on Wednesday to reach his second consecutive French Open semi-final while Nadal made it through via a Pablo Carreno Busta retirement.

Centre Court at Roland Garros is being described as a high-bouncing clay court by many players and pundits which can actually bring out the best in both players’ games.

It feels like this entire clay swing has been building up to the very moment for Nadal and Thiem and it’s a shame it’s coming at the semi-final stage rather than the final of the French Open.

What the players said

Rafael Nadal

“Thiem is a tough player. I hope that I won’t lose. I won in Barcelona, Madrid, and I lost to him in Rome. We played three times with Dominic. We can have a look at the statistics. We can talk about statistics for hours, but what is important is to consider the match. So either you play well and you advance to the next round or you lose and you’re out. If I play well, I hope that I will be able to book my spot in the final. If I don’t play well, I will be out of the tournament.”

Dominic Thiem

“First of all, it’s great for me to be in the semi-finals again, to defend that. And of course, I think on Friday is coming the toughest opponent ever here in Roland Garros. Gonna be the fourth match against him in, like, five or six weeks. Not really big secrets. Well, he’s again in his best shape. So gonna be the toughest match what you can imagine.”

“It’s a joke how tough it is to win a slam. Because obviously now I beat Novak. On Friday is Nadal. In the finals there is another top star. That’s why it’s a slam is because it’s such a tough achievement.”

More key stats

2 – Thiem is bidding to become the second Austrian player – man or woman – in history to reach a Grand Slam final. 1995 Roland Garros champion Thomas Muster is the only Austrian player to reach the final at a major.

3 – Thiem is bidding to become just the third player ever – alongside Novak Djokovic and Gaston Gaudio – to defeat Nadal on clay on three or more occasions.

3 – of the four semi-finalists – Wawrinka, Thiem, Nadal – are yet to drop a set this fortnight. It’s the first time this has happened at a Grand Slam since the 1988 Australian Open, when Pat Cash, Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander achieved the feat. It’s the first time this has happened at Roland Garros in the Open Era.

3 – Nadal is bidding to become the third man in history to make 10 appearances in the final at one Grand Slam event after Bill Tilden (10 US Open finals) and Roger Federer (10 Wimbledon finals).

4 – This is the fourth consecutive tournament meeting between Thiem and Nadal.

5 – In five of the previous six meetings between Nadal and Thiem, the winner of their match has gone on to win the title.

7 – wins and 15 losses for Thiem against top-five opposition (6-6 on clay).

9 – wins and zero losses for Nadal in Roland Garros semi-finals.

21 – wins and three losses for Nadal in Grand Slam semi-finals. His last Slam semi-final loss came to Juan Martin del Potro in the 2009 US Open.

22 – Nadal has dropped just 22 games in reaching the semi-finals in Paris – the fewest games dropped into a Grand Slam semi-final in the Open Era where five best-of-five set matches have been played.

22 – tour-leading match wins on clay for both Thiem and Nadal.

22 – Nadal is looking to reach his 22nd Grand Slam final and take sole ownership of second place on the all-time list (behind Federer who has made 28) for most Grand Slam finals reached in the Open Era.

23 – years and 281 days, Thiem’s age. He is looking to become the youngest man to reach a Grand Slam final since Djokovic (23 years 253 days) and Murray (23 years 260 days) played each other in the final at the 2011 Australian Open. He would be the youngest man to reach the Roland Garros final since Nadal (22 years 5 days) in 2008.

29 – years and 105 days, the average age of the four men’s semi-finalists. It’s the second-highest at Roland Garros in the Open Era (behind 1968, when it was 33 years 224 days).

39 – games Thiem has dropped en route to the semis compared to 76 last year.

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Stats and quotes you need to know ahead of Murray-Wawrinka RG semi-final

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Familiar foes: Wawrinka and Murray.

Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka will square off for the 18th time when they take to Court Philippe Chatrier for their second consecutive Roland Garros semi-final against each other on Friday.

Murray, a runner-up in Paris in 2016, has dropped three sets so far this fortnight (to Kuznetsova in R1, Klizan in R2, Nishikori in QF), while Wawrinka is yet to lose a set.

They’re both looking to reach the second Roland Garros of their respective careers.

What the players have said

Andy Murray

“I came in, playing garbage.” (see video above)

“Obviously when we played last year, it was a similar situation coming in. I think Stan had played really well coming into the match. I had struggled in some of my matches during the event last year, but I played one of my best clay court matches that day to get the win. I need to do the same again tomorrow. He’s been playing very well. He’s not dropped a set here.

“Yeah, he’s obviously played extremely well the last few years at the French, and he’s confident. It’s going to be very tough. But I can learn some things from last year. I’m sure he will, as well, and will try to change some things. Should be an interesting match.”

Stan Wawrinka

“I don’t think we need extra motivation. When you arrive in the semi-final of a Grand Slam, the motivation is quite high. For me, for me doesn’t change that we played last year and that I lost against him. It’s a new match. It’s a new year. We can see everything is completely different from last year. The week before the tournaments we did some different results, so it’s going to be a great match. It’s always a great challenge to play the World No1 in a Grand Slam.”

“He defeated me last year. He was playing better. He was really playing well last year. I think it will be an interesting match. The conditions are a little different. I think he’s probably a bit less confident. He’s a bit more hesitant. Hopefully I can take advantage of that and find solutions to beat him.”

More key stats

1 – Murray has won just one of his last eight meetings with top-five opposition at the Grand Slams.

1 – win and four losses for Murray against top-five opposition at Roland Garros. That one loss was against Wawrinka in last year’s semis.

2 – Murray is facing a top-five player this season for just the second time. His only top-five match so far in 2017 was a straight-sets loss to Novak Djokovic in the Doha final.

3 – of the four semi-finalists – Wawrinka, Thiem, Nadal – are yet to drop a set this fortnight. It’s the first time this has happened at a Grand Slam since the 1988 Australian Open, when Pat Cash, Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander achieved the feat. It’s the first time this has happened at Roland Garros in the Open Era.

3 – wins and two losses for Murray against Wawrinka in Grand Slams.

3 – Wawrinka is one of just three Swiss players to ever reach a Grand Slam final – alongside Roger Federer and Martina Hingis.

3 – wins and five losses for Wawrinka in Grand Slam semi-finals.

4 – Wawrinka is bidding to defeat a world No1 for the fourth time in his career.

4 – Wawrinka has reached the semi-finals at four of the last five Grand Slams. He is through to his ninth Grand Slam semi-final overall.

7 – Murray is looking to become just the 7th man in the Open Era to reach the finals at all four Grand Slam events on multiple occasions.

10 – Wawrinka is bidding to record his 10th straight win and record a new career-best Tour-level winning streak on clay. His current nine-match winning streak includes a title run in Geneva in the week leading up to the French Open.

12 – Murray is bidding to reach his 12th Grand Slam final.

29 – years and 105 days, the average age of the four men’s semi-finalists. It’s the second-highest at Roland Garros in the Open Era (behind 1968, when it was 33 years 224 days).

44 – years since someone as old as Wawrinka has reached the Roland Garros men’s final. At 32 years 75 days, Wawrinka could become the oldest French Open finalist since 33-year-old Niki Pilic finished runner-up here in 1973.

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