By Blair Henley
A blockbuster Semifinal Saturday set the stage for a mouth-watering women’s final with the Western & Southern Open title on the line.
Simona Halep will have a chance to take home the Rookwood Cup and the No. 1 ranking when she takes on Garbine Muguruza on Sunday.
Halep, a finalist in 2015 and a semifinalist here last year, comfortably dismissed Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-1 in 54 minutes on Saturday, giving her a shot at becoming the first Romanian champion in Cincinnati since Magda Rurac won in 1949. The 25-year-old, who has yet to drop a set in four matches, is 1-2 against Muguruza, with her lone win coming on clay in Stuttgart at their last meeting in 2015.
"I played a few times against her, and I know she's very aggressive," Halep said. "She stays close to the baseline, and she hits everything. I have just to respond fast and strong with my legs, move well, and just to push her back. I'll try everything tomorrow."
For the third time this season, Halep has the No.1 ranking on her racket. She had a chance to clinch the top spot in the Roland Garros final and in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, falling in three sets to Jelena Ostapenko and Johanna Konta, respectively.
"I want to win [the top ranking]," she said. "If it's gonna be just to win a match and to get there, it [would be] more special and nicer for me. Everyone can get to No. 1 now...but I am so close. I really want that."
Two-time Grand Slam champion Muguruza will stand in Halep's way. The Spaniard, currently ranked No. 6 in the world, took out a fatigued Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 6-3 earlier in the day in a rematch of last year’s semifinal. With the win, the 23-year-old snapped a six-match losing streak against the current world No. 1, and reached her first final since Wimbledon last month.
“It was a very long time [since I’ve played] with her, but she's playing very good,” Muguruza said of Halep. “She's strong and, you know, she has a lot of matches. I saw her a little bit these days - so tough. Solid opponent.”
Muguruza and Halep will take the court on Sunday at 2pm Eastern. Follow the action on the Western & Southern Open live blog or tune in on ESPN and TennisTV.