Simona Halep moved to within one win away from a first grand slam title on day 12 at the French Open, after the Romanian won a tough semi-final against Karolina Pliskova.
Third seed Halep battled past the last year’s beaten US Open finalist 6-4 3-6 6-3 to reach a second French Open final, where she will face unseeded Latvian Jelena Ostapenko.
It was a missed chance for Pliskova to end her wait for a first grand slam title and the opportunity to take the world number one spot from Angelique Kerber, which now hands Halep the chance to take top spot if she wins on Saturday.
Halep had to recover from a set and 5-1 down in her quarter-final against Elina Svitolina on Wednesday, but she started strongly against her Czech opponent breaking in game three after two double faults from Piliskova.
The third seed then had to dig deep in the next game to save two break points, the second with a searing forehand winner after a stirring rally, before three wayward forehands from Pliskova allowed Halep to serve for a one-set lead.
Despite making 24 errors in the first set, Pliskova was much improved in the second as she took more risks on Halep’s serve, which allowed her to score a crucial break to go 4-2 ahead against the 25-year-old to help force the match into a decider.
Halep was under pressure early on in the third set but she managed to score a fantastic break to take a 3-1 lead, as she chased down a forehand at full stretch and fired a brilliant cross-court winner to an appreciative roar from the crowd.
Pliskova would not stop fighting as she broke back for 3-4 and with a great forehand winner, but Halep remained composed to break straight back to seal the victory when her 25-year-old opponent floated a forehand long.
It was a birthday to remember for Latvian Jelena Ostapenko, as she became the first unseeded woman to reach the French Open final since 1983 with a hard-fought win over Timea Bacsinszky.
The 20-year-old kept her hopes of a first WTA Tour title alive with a 7-6 (7/4) 3-6 6-3 win over her Swiss opponent, as she also became the first Latvian to reach a grand slam final.
The result leaves Bacsinszky – who also celebrated her 28th birthday on Thursday – still awaiting her first grand slam final, as she fell at the semi-finals in Paris for the second time in three years.
Ostapenko knocked out former world number one Caroline Wozniacki in the quarter-finals, but she started off on the backfoot against the 30th seed, as Bacsinszky broke early for a 2-0 lead after a string off wild errors from the Latvian.
However, Ostapenko managed to overcome her early nerves to break back at 4-3 with a monster backhand winner down the line, as the first set would be decided on a tie-break.
Ostapenko brought up three set points with a blistering forehand down the line and took the opening set with a backhand volley, after Bacszinsky needed a medical timeout for a knee problem.
However, the Swiss woman would manage to score a vital break point at 3-3 in the second after Ostapenko often undone her ruthless brilliance with silly errors, as a double fault from the world number 47 took the match into a deciding set.
After an exchange of five break points in the opening seven games on the third set, Ostapenko held serve at 5-3 and sealed the biggest win of her career with a forehand winner into the corner on her second match point.