Simona Halep to face Jelena Ostapenko in French Open final
Winner of Saturday’s decider will take over from Angelique Kerber as world number one
Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia celebrates victory following her French Open semi-final win over Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland at Roland Garros. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Title favourite Simona Halep will face newcomer Jelena Ostapenko in the women’s French Open final on Saturday.
After Ostapenko celebrated her 20th birthday in spectacular fashion with a 7-6 (7/4) 3-6 6-3 semi-final victory over Timea Bacsinszky, Halep defeated Karolina Pliskova 6-4 3-6 6-3.
The third seed will now bid for her first Grand Slam title in her second French Open final after losing to Maria Sharapova in 2014.
Halep was thankful still to be in the tournament after her remarkable recovery from a set and 5-1 down against Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals.
She certainly seemed more relaxed against second seed Pliskova and used her clay court nous to defeat the big-hitting Czech.
Pliskova had surprised herself with her run here having won only two matches in five previous visits to Roland Garros.
The fast conditions have helped the Czech and, after Halep controlled the first set, Pliskova found her range on her big serve and forehand in the second.
There was more than just a place in the final at stake, with both players also competing for the chance to overtake Angelique Kerber as world number one.
Pliskova only needed to win this match while Halep must take the title.
And it is the Romanian who will have that opportunity after she proved just the stronger in the deciding set.
Halep won a long game to break for 3-1 with a brilliant running forehand pass and then fought off two break points in the following game.
Pliskova fought back to 4-3 but then played a poor service game and Halep took victory on her first match point.
Earlier, Ostapenko won her birthday battle against Bacsinszky to become the first unseeded woman to reach the French Open final for 34 years.
Not since Mima Jausovec in 1983 has a player outside the leading ranks made it all the way to the trophy decider.
Ostapenko is the first Latvian Grand Slam finalist and the youngest at any Grand Slam since Caroline Wozniacki in New York eight years ago.
In a remarkable quirk of fate, both women were playing arguably the biggest match of their careers on their birthday.
Bacsinszky, in her second slam semi-final, turned 28 while Thursday brought an end to Ostapenko’s teenage years.
The Latvian has been the surprise package of a wide open tournament having never previously been beyond the third round at a slam.
Ostapenko’s forehand, which this fortnight has averaged three miles per hour faster than Andy Murray’s, had helped her blast her way past Sam Stosur and Wozniacki in the previous two rounds.
It was clear from the start that Ostapenko was going to be the aggressor and she edged a first set in which she hit 21 winners.
She was in pole position in the second as well but got understandably tight with the finish line in sight, allowing Bacsinszky to level.
It looked like the same might happen in the third when Bacsinszky fought back from 3-1 to 3-3 but Ostapenko had learned her lesson and clinched victory with a forehand into the corner, her 50th winner.
Ostapenko will now try to win the first senior title of her career, and history might just be on her side.
The last player to win their debut title at Roland Garros was Gustavo Kuerten on June 8th, 1997 – the day Ostapenko was born.