Halep gunning for revenge
2:07pm Friday 6th June 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Simona Halep hopes her desire for revenge against Maria Sharapova can help carry her to a maiden grand slam title at the French Open on Saturday.
Sharapova is the title favourite but Halep has undoubtedly played the better tennis at Roland Garros and is yet to drop a set.
The Romanian had only previously made one grand slam quarter-final, but on the back of a stellar 12 months she will reach number three in the rankings on Monday.
Halep has won seven titles in that time, more than anyone except Serena Williams, and she came close to adding an eighth in Madrid last month.
The player who stopped her was Sharapova, the Russian winning in three sets after Halep had taken the first 6-1.
Halep is giving away eight inches in height to her opponent and a significant amount of power but the 22-year-old counters that with a terrific fluidity of movement and a calm, intelligent game.
"I have to take that revenge," said Halep. "I will fight for this one. I played a really good match in Madrid first set. I started really well. I was very fast on court, and I opened the angles very well.
"But she came back very, very well and she hit strong, stronger than me at that moment. Now I have to be aggressive again, to play fast, my style, and to stay there with the nerves.
"I have nothing to lose. I will keep this in my mind always. I will try to hit very relaxed. I know that it will be very tough to manage the emotions, but I will try my best."
Halep's rise is well documented but startling nevertheless.
When she lost in the first round at Roland Garros last year she was ranked 57th and had never won a title or been beyond the second round at a grand slam.
Halep's promise on clay was demonstrated by her junior win in Paris six years ago, aged 16, but it was not until last spring that she realised she might be able to repeat that on the big stage.
"I think the click was in Rome when I beat (Agnieszka) Radwanska," she said.
"I thought after that match that I can play at a higher level to beat the top players. I started to be more aggressive. At that moment I had more confidence in myself.
"I had an impressive 12 months, but today at this tournament it's more than that, it's fantastic. Now I am emotional to speak about it and to say how I feel.
"It's incredible and I want just for the final to play a good match."
While Halep has breezed her way through the draw, Sharapova has needed to show her famous fighting spirit.
The Russian has battled back from a set down in each of her last three matches to beat Sam Stosur, Garbine Muguruza and Eugenie Bouchard.
Her victory over Bouchard on Thursday was the 19th successive three-set match she has won on clay, a formidable record dating back four years.
"I've had some really tough matches where I've been pushed," said Sharapova, who is in the final for the third straight year after winning the title in 2012 and losing to Williams 12 months ago.
"A lot of times in my career I've felt better coming off those matches knowing that I might not have played my best tennis or just didn't feel as great as maybe I should have or done the right things, but I came through and I'm finding myself playing for another major."
Sharapova was certainly pushed in the Madrid final and knows she will face a player at the very top of her game.
"It was a very, very tough match," she said. "I was happy to get through that one, because we hadn't played in a long time before then.
"Her level has definitely increased in the last year. With the way she's been playing, she's always a difficult player to play against. I think she's playing really well. She hasn't dropped a set this tournament.
"Despite all that, I'm in a grand slam final. No matter who is across the net, I feel it's a great opportunity for the both of us. I'll be there until the very last point."