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.
Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep meet in the semifinals of the 2018 tennis French Open.
Muguruza had thrashed Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals but Halep was a different proposition entirely, and it seemed she knew it.
Half an hour later 1-0 had become 6-1 and the challenge of Muguruza, who would have taken over at the top of the rankings with a victory, appeared to be fading fast.
The 10th-seeded Stephens will bid for her second major title when she takes on Halep.
Two-time major victor Kerber raced into a 4-0 lead in the first set before having to rely on a tiebreak to nudge her ahead.
The signs were ominous when the five-times Grand Slam champion coughed up three nervy double-faults in the opening game.
She has bounced back from disappointment after disappointment in the Grand Slam tournaments, where reputations and legacies are made and unmade. "I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon", Sharapova wrote.
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The victor of Thursday's semi-final will also decide the world number one spot which Muguruza held for four weeks a year ago. If she can channel that same degree of aplomb and expertise in the semi, Halep doesn't have much of a chance.
The 2012 and 2014 Paris champion, who missed the 2016 tournament because of a doping ban and a year ago when she was refused a wild card, was broken six times, committed 27 unforced errors and won just five points on her own serve in the second set.
I think it's tough to just assess a single tournament. In the first set, Halep had 30 unforced errors.
"To have had the victories that I have had, to have the results that I have, obviously moving a step in the right direction", said Sharapova who had made the last-eight in Madrid and semis in Rome in the run-up to Paris. The Russian won only five of 26 second-serve points in the face of Muguruza's elegant 6-2, 6-1 stampede.
"I was up against a great player so I had make sure I brought my best tennis".
"I played again one of my best matches on clay", Halep said after coming back from a break down in the second set. "I think my body will need a little bit of rest, but mentally I'm ready to go", said five-time major victor Sharapova.
Halep won their only meeting on clay, and she's playing well enough to lead the tournament in break points won (32) as well as first serves returned in play (111).
Thoroughly and clinically outplayed by Muguruza in every respect, Sharapova looked uncomfortable and off-balance for most of her brief stint on court and had a particularly deflating second set in which she logged two winners to 15 unforced errors.