The last two encounters on the clay for Anastasija Sevastova against Simona Halep have not been anything the Latvian would like to dwell on, but she was the one who started though more positive with even a smile in the first game while Halep was the one that looked on edge with two double faults in her first game.
But balance was restored as Sevastova quickly became frustrated with things as Halep settled, with Halep looking solid behind her first serve, the Latvian less so. The first break point chances fell to Halep and though she couldn’t convert the first time around, she made no mistake on the second chance.
With the bit between her teeth she swiftly broke Sevastova again for a double break cushion that seemed a world away from her fingers and thumbs first game, with a comfortable lead.
The Latvian looked to settle her own nerves by starting the second set with a hold to love and was finally rewarded for her persistence with a break of Halep’s serve at the start of the second set – converting straight away on her first break point of the match.
Injecting more variety into her game, she had Halep scrambling forward and back, left and right as Sevastova swiftly jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Not surprisingly Halep called Darren Cahill down, and whatever he said worked, with a hold and a break back form the Romanian to put herself back on serve, with a good effort to deflect another couple of threatening break point chances as she levelled 3-3.
As frustration set in, Halep seemed to press home all the more, reeling off her fourth game in a row to take the lead for the first time in the second set. As soon as she had it was plain sailing for the defending champion.
She deflected more break points against her and closed out her sixth game on the bounce on her first match point to reach the finals for the second time in a row.
She said: “I was very nervous today. I don’t know why. Maybe because I played semis again and I really wanted to be in the finals. She’s a very tough opponent, very difficult to play against her. I knew that. Maybe that’s why I was a little bit nervous.
“I just, yeah, don’t know. I couldn’t breathe too easy. I was tired all match. But now I feel good because I played doubles and I relaxed my body. So I feel good. I don’t want to remember the feeling that I had in the court. But now it’s everything okay.”
It was a tentative start by both, neither holding on to their serves in the opening exchanges with a long game before Kuznetsova was the first to hold. The match did not really seem to catch fire with the next few games being pretty competitive before Mladenovic got the advantage she needed late in the first set for a break, before serving the first set out on her third set point.
Break point chances were few and far between in the second set – a couple of Mladenovic early on, and then three more towards the end of the set as the pair continued their battle of wills before a tie-break.
The momentum bounced along from one to the other with Kuznetsova turning around a 1-3 deficit, but from there it was virtually one way traffic for the Frenchwoman as she made her second final in as many tournaments.
She said, of her upcoming final: “[Halep’s] such a smart player, all around the court, I feel. She is developing her game in that way, that style, because she’s not that tall, not that powerful. She’s playing really well tactically.
“She’s moving really well. Her game suits perfectly on clay, I would say. She’s one of the best players, playing extremely well here in Madrid, being the defending champion, always had good results in the past.
“I’m expecting a tough match. Even though I’m leading in our head-to-head, we never played on clay, I think. That’s going to be a brand-new challenge for me, especially that she’s more used to being in a finals of such a big events than me, especially here in Madrid. I really have to bring up my best game.”
Halep  v Mladenovic  – H2H: Mladenovic leads 3-1
In their first clay court encounter, the Frenchwoman must carry a little confidence with a fair lead in their head to head, including their most recent meeting in Indian Wells.
Both have great clay court pedigree. Halep is a former French Open finalist and of course won the title here last year. She is already being touted as one of the favourites for this year’s French Open.
Facing her, however, is a player who may be without an official coach, but has been travelling with her family, and doing all the coach-type roles herself – scouting opponents, training, and so far it has been working for her.
She almost had the keys for the Porsche car on offer in Stuttgart in her hands, and has been pretty impressive this week. She might have gone to a third set in her opener against Ana Konjuh, but the Croatian retired, but she did have to fight through three sets against Lauren Davis before coasting up to the quarter-finals.
Even in her match against Kuznetsova it had more of a feel of cat and mouse as they jostled for advantage, but her confidence is high at the moment, and Halep will have to quell some nerves once more.
There is no doubt that playing for ‘Mr Tiriac’ brings its own pressure for the Romanian star, but she is showing the form and more importantly the mental attitude to get the job done.
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