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!