Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Simona, Garbine, Madison, and Sloane have a story to tell

Every good draw has a story, and the semifinal draw of the French Open has a story worth telling.

The lead character in this story is world number 1 Simona Halep. If she defeats Garbine Muguruza, she holds onto her number 1 ranking--and goes to her fourth major final. It would also be her third French Open final, and so much appears (I don't want to be like a television commentator and read Simona's mind) to be riding on what happens. In fact, the stakes seem so great, that a loss to Muguruza in the semifinals might even be less painful than another loss in the final.

The Romanian seems ready for anything. Her clever game and impressive speed and flexibility have frequently been greater than her mental stability on court, but right now, Halep seems to have finally put all the pieces together.

Muguruza, however, is more than just "another" semifinal opponent. Many are saying that she has "the look"--that's the look she gets when she's about to finish off the remainder of the seven women she faces in a major draw. The Spaniard (who will return to the number 1 spot if she wins her semifinal match) isn't consistent. She can "mugu" around and make an early exit--or she can display such deadly fluidity that she becomes a one-woman SWAT team. She looks like a woman on a mission, and it won't be easy for even the talented, determined Halep to stop her.

What a contrast they are. Muguruza, at her best, makes everything look so easy. Halep, on the other hand, dazzles with her ability to struggle, fight relentlessly and come back from behind. Muguruza is 4-1 against her, but the one match Halep won was played on clay.

The other semifinal has its own story. Two close friends, Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens--both from the USA--will compete to see who goes to the final. Stephens beat Keys in the 2017 U.S. Open final. She also beat Keys the only other time they played, in Miami in 2015. Keys contends she can't stand playing on clay, but she probably wouldn't give up this opportunity to reach the final in Paris.

Keys is hardly a Halep. She has a big serve and forehand, and lacks Halep's speed. But she'll be facing someone not unlike Muguruza: When Stephens is "on," she, too, makes it look so fluid and easy. And also like the Spaniard, Stephens isn't known for being "on" on a consistent basis.

My gut feelilng is that everyone is going to be "on," and the story may be, in part, a thriller. There will be happy endings and sad endings--and anticipation for the sequel, which will occur on Saturday.

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