Cincinnati: Simona Halep has her third chance of the season to claim the world No. 1 ranking after beating Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-1 on Saturday to reach the WTA Cincinnati Masters finals.
The second-ranked Romanian tries to become the 24th different woman atop the list by winning Sunday’s final against Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, who ousted top-ranked Czech defending champion Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 6-2.
“If it’s going to happen, great, but if not I will have more opportunities. Hopefully I can do it. I have the desire,” Halep said. “I am so close. I really want that.”
Australia’s 23rd-ranked Nick Kyrgios and Bulgaria’s 11th-ranked Grigor Dimitrov advanced to the men’s final, where Sunday’s winner will claim his first ATP Masters crown.
Dimitrov dispatched 19th-ranked American John Isner 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (12/10) while Kyrgios eliminated Spain’s David Ferrer 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/4).
Dimitrov won his only meeting with Kyrgios in the second round at Indian Wells in 2015.
Halep, who hasn’t dropped a set all week, has already lost twice this year playing for the top ranking, falling in the French Open final against Jelena Ostapenko and the Wimbledon quarter-final against Johanna Konta, each time after taking the first set.
“Maybe tomorrow is my turn,” Halep said.
“I have to give my best and fight and if I win it’s going to be really special. It’s a great opportunity. But for sure it’s going to be a tough match against a Grand Slam champion.
“It’s a big challenge. It’s a big match.”
Halep says while she is confident her rise to the top will come, she wants to win it for herself.
“I know if I keep this level, it’s going to come. If not tomorrow, maybe next weeks,” she said. “I can keep hoping for that, but I don’t want to do that, actually. I want to win it ... it’s going to be more special and nicer for me.
“My first goal was a Grand Slam title, and it’s still the first goal. But now being very close, it’s maybe the most important thing in this period.”
Serena Williams had been number one before her pregnancy break earlier this year. Germany’s Angelique Kerber and Pliskova have held the spot since.
Sixth-ranked Spaniard Muguruza, seeking her fifth career title, is 2-1 against Halep with two hardcourt wins but lost their most recent meeting in 2015 on Stuttgart clay.
“I’m just happy to be in the final,” said Muguruza. “Very happy with this win.”
Kyrgios seeks fourth title
Kyrgios, 22, jumped ahead 4-1 in each tiebreaker, closing out the first set with a forehand winner and the last when Ferrer hit a backhand long.
The Aussie, who seeks his fourth career ATP title and first since last year in Tokyo, saved the only three break points he faced in the fifth game of the second set.
At 35, Ferrer was the oldest Cincinnati semi-finalist since 1970 champion Ken Rosewall.
Dimitrov, seeking his sixth career title and third of 2017, won a dramatic final tiebreaker on his fourth match point.
“Patience. That’s what it is,” Dimitrov said. “I knew where he was going to serve but I couldn’t do much on the ball. I just remained focused and used every opportunity I had.”
‘I figured out something’
Halep never faced a break point and cruised in 54 minutes.
“I played my best match on hardcourts so far,” Halep said.
US 151st-ranked wild card Stephens was in only her fourth event since returning from a foot injury that sidelined her 11 months.
Pliskova, last year’s US Open runner-up, had won six matches in a row over Muguruza since losing their first meeting at the 2013 French Open.
“I lost to her so many times, I figured out something was going wrong,” Muguruza said. “I worked hard on beating these kinds of opponents.”
Pliskova, who won twice Friday after a rain postponement, was drained, saying, “I just wasn’t there today at all.”