PARIS — Ho-Hum. Simona Halep is in the French Open final, and she couldn’t be more relaxed.
She produced a superb performance to overcome No. 3 Garbine Muguruza 6-1, 6-4 on Thursday to reach her second successive final in Paris.
Halep is hoping to break her major duck, having been runner-up twice at Roland Garros (2014, 2017) and at the Australian Open in January. But even if she does lose against America’s Sloane Stephens in Saturday’s championship match, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
“So I lost three times until now and no one died, so it will be OK,” Halep said jokingly in press following her semifinal victory over Muguruza, a win that guaranteed the Romanian would hang on to her No. 1 ranking.
“It’s a big opportunity, it’s a big chance. I will be, I think, more confident, because I have a lot of experience. But in tennis, you never know, so I will stay chill.”
Those losses, though, still linger. When asked what she’d learned, Halep was quick to change the subject. “Let’s talk about outside — it’s beautiful weather!”
Simona Halep moved into her second successive French Open final with a victory over Garbine Muguruza. Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Halep also holds a 5-2 edge in their head-to-head matchups and has beaten Stephens on their past four meetings. Halep was victorious in their two clashes on clay — including at Roland Garros four years ago. While the US Open champion Stephens will be fighting for a second Grand Slam victory in nine months, Halep knows she has plenty of support behind her.
“OK, let’s make a deal,” she said. “I will play for the fans from all over the world, because I know that many are hoping me to win this Grand Slam finally. I will put everything I have Saturday on the court. I will think that I will make many people happy. So maybe I will have enough power to win it.”
A welcome return
Robin Soderling was the first man to beat Rafael Nadal at the French Open. Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Robin Soderling will always be remembered for being the first man to beat Rafael Nadal at the French Open. The Swede, twice a beaten finalist at Roland Garros, ended Nadal’s dominance of four straight titles in 2009 with a fourth-round victory, before going on to lose the final to Roger Federer.
Nadal, of course, went on to win five straight titles in Paris between 2010 and 2014 and picked up his 10th crown last year. Soderling’s journey, however, couldn’t have been more different.
The Swede’s career was cut drastically short after he contracted mononucleosis (also known as glandular fever) and he was forced to retire age 31 in December 2015, following years of setbacks. He hadn’t played in an ATP World Tour tournament since 2011.
Soderling, now a coach to fellow Swede Elias Ymer, returned to the grounds Thursday for the first time since 2011 and talked at length about coming to terms with the illness, life as a coach and plans to make what would be a poignant return on the Champions Tour.
Robin Soderling, best known for being the first man to beat Rafael Nadal at the French Open, made a welcome return to Roland Garros Thursday. The Swede’s career was sadly cut short when he retired aged 31 due to a long-running illness. Now coaching Swedish player Elias Ymer, Soderling could make a poignant return to compete on the Champions Tour. He spoke at length about his health in Paris. “It took a good, I would say, four, almost five years before I fully recovered, which was really tough,” Soderling said in press. “Every time I think about it, I always try to tell myself ‘Well, hey, this could have happened when I was 18.’ I still feel that I managed to have a good career.”
Rob Bartlett, ESPN UK Associate Editor8h ago
“It’s really tough for any athlete in any sport, when you can’t retire on your own terms,” Soderling said. “But it was much more difficult mentally in the beginning, especially when I tried to come back. You know, the weeks were going, the months were passing, and I just wanted to come back.
“Sometimes when I travel with Elias to tournaments, I’m there as a coach. I’m in the locker room, and I still see the players I used to compete against. They are still playing. Of course, sometimes I feel, ‘Oh, I should be here as a player, not as a coach.’
“It’s a certain life. It’s a tough life, you know, even though sometimes, if you look at it from the outside, it can look like they have the best life ever. And, of course, we have. We are doing what we want to, what we like the most. But it’s also not positive. It’s mixed feeling. But, of course, I wanted to play a few more years longer.”
And did Federer ever thank him?
“No. He should! I’m still waiting,” Soderling quipped. “When he saw I beat Rafa, I think he was a little bit happy, of course. But maybe he could have beat him in the finals. Who knows? I think if he never won a title here, he would still be playing here.”
An ominous stat?
Don’t look now, Juan Martin Del Potro — Rafael Nadal has a 10-0 record in French Open semifinals. Incredibly, the Spaniard has won the tournament all 10 times he’s reached that stage.
Rafael Nadal’s French Open semifinal record. ESPN Stats & Information
Earlier in 2018, Real Madrid coaching staff performed some tests on Cristiano Ronaldo and concluded he had the body of a 23-year-old man with only 7 percent body fat.
Ronaldo, 33, is a year older than Real superfan Rafael Nadal, but it’s safe to say the 10-time French Open champion isn’t feeling as sprightly.
“My body is about 40 years old, but I’m not really focusing on that,” Nadal said. “I’m just playing tennis. I’m 32, and I’m how I am. I’m happy. I accept my age.
“There are things that are lost and there are other things that are gained, and I’m trying to improve all the time. That’s it. I’m happy for Cristiano that his body is 23.”
Take it easy
Speaking of bodies, there were a few worries during the legends’ action Thursday. Two-time French Open quarterfinalist Amelie Mauresmo posted this cheeky snap of Conchita Martinez on her Instagram account, following their match on Court 1:
No more small talk
Diego Schwartzman is bored of the small talk. At 5-foot-7, he is the shortest player in the ATP’s top 100 and is nicknamed “El Peque” — or “The Short One” when roughly translated in English.
What the Argentinian may lack in height, though, he makes up for with rapid speed; Schwartzman wowed the Roland Garros crowds over the past fortnight with a beautiful brand of attacking, explosive tennis.
Diego Schwartzman congratulates Rafael Nadal after their French Open quarterfinal. ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images
He’ll move up to No. 11 when the latest world rankings are published Monday and, should he impress at Wimbledon, the top 10 will be well within sight. But, please — no more questions about his height!
“I don’t know why they ask every week, every week, every week, every day,” he said. “Come on, they know the answer. So why they are asking every time? But it’s OK. I mean, I am a respectful guy, so I always try to do the answer. But every week they ask the same question, so they can read the newspaper and they know the answer.”
A familiar face returned Thursday as three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten was named as the first ambassador for Roland Garros by French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli.
“Guga,” as Kuerten is known, was asked for this thoughts on Italy’s Marco Cecchinato, whose current run to the semifinals this year has sparked comparisons to Kuerten’s first triumph in 1997.
The main difference?
“Nicer hair, him,” Kuerten said in press. “He is, as you said, feeling, for sure, as a new player, best tennis ever. He find out, perhaps he never discover before, he was able to do such amazing shots. I watch him playing the backhand down the line, and it’s curious. One-hand backhand, that’s very rare on these days.”
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 7, 2018
Tears of joy
Juan Martin del Potro struggling to contain his emotions during his on-court interview after beating Marin Cilic has to be one of our favorite moments of the tournament. This is how much it meant to the No. 5 seed:
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 7, 2018
Nadal and del Potro will be aiming for a solid night’s rest ahead of their French Open semifinal Friday.
Inclement weather meant that both Nadal and Del Potro’s respective quarterfinal ties Wednesday had to be put on hold overnight. Neither player got much rest ahead of Thursday’s action, albeit for differing reasons.
“Thunder woke me up at 3 a.m., and I had trouble going back to sleep,” Nadal said Thursday.
Del Potro, on the other hand, went to bed with his match against Marin Cilic deep in a first-set tie-breaker. “It wasn’t good night because I was thinking too much, where could I serve, T or wide?” he said afterward. “I made too many questions to myself.”