Simona Halep fought back from a set down against two-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber to book her spot in the semi-finals of the French Open and set up a shootout with Garbine Muguruza for the world No. 1 spot. Halep started slowly, spraying shots wide as she lost the first four games of the match against the No. 12 seed who hit her early groundstrokes with lethal accuracy.
But Muguruza was relentless and brought up two set points with a scorching backhand victor before sealing the opening set with a clubbing forehand that Sharapova fended into the net.
Stephens continued her career-best run at the French Open with a 6-4, 6-4 win over fellow American Madison Keys. Halep, who has yet to win a major championship, is in the final for the second consecutive year.
The women's final at the 2018 French Open is set for Saturday with top-seeded Simona Halep taking on Sloane Stephens.
In Thursday's other semi-final, US Open champion Stephens will take on fellow American and close friend Keys who she beat 6-3, 6-0 in the final in NY last September.
But they hadn't played since 2014, back before Muguruza was as confident and successful as she is these days.
"I think I worked really hard coming back and getting in the gym, and when I was chubby trying to get skinny and when I was out of shape getting back in shape", she said after seeing off close friend Madison Keys in the semi-finals on Thursday.
Sharapova did finally settle, holding serve to love, but Muguruza clumped down an ace to make it 5-1.
Muguruza is to my mind the slight favourite given her thumping 6-2, 6-1 win over Maria Sharapova yesterday, and greater pedigree at the majors.
However, it was just a brief respite as 24-year-old Wimbledon champion Muguruza claimed a quick double break for 4-1, backed up by a hold for 5-1.
"And now it's just - it's good to be able to play all the time for that, but every week there is a new chance, there is a new thing". Rafa Nadal goes in search of his 11th French Open title but don't count out Novak Djokovic - and what about the in-form Alexander Zverev? When we get on the court, it's time to compete. "Then I was very confident that I can finish".
"So tomorrow is going to be a big challenge for me". I'm not ever going to try to be a person that isn't nice, so that feels more authentic to me and, you know, I think I'm still doing okay.
But Keys, who made 23 unforced errors in the first set, hit back hard and set up a break point at 3-2, only for Stephens to save it with a service return victor.
Halep and Stephens won straight-set matches in the semifinals.