Simona Halep followed Rafa Nadal on court, and she followed Nadal's gameplan to perfection-it was a masterful performance of defense plus offense.plus defense.
Twice the runner-up in Paris, Halep has qualified for the final by defeating 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza 6-1, 6-4. Halep then seized her chance, moving 0-40 ahead and then raising her arms in triumph as Muguruza blazed a backhand long.
This time a year ago, Stephens was still sidelined with a foot injury that her walking around in crutches and Keys was coming off a second wrist surgery.
Stephens put a higher percentage of first serves into play (76.2 percent) than anyone in the draw other than her first-round victim, Arantxa Rus.
That became 4-2 before Halep broke back for 4-4 and then held serve in a 14-minute game which went to a seventh deuce and saw Muguruza blow three break points.
All three were tight, three-set defeats, none more painful than her slow fade against the inexperienced Ostapenko in Paris past year, where she led, 6-4, 3-0, with a point to go up, 4-0, before Ostapenko rallied to take the trophy instead.
The friends hugged at the net, both smiling.
In the first all-American Roland Garros semi-final since 2002, the 10th-seeded Stephens stayed composed throughout as Keys, who has not won a set against her in three meetings, peppered the court with unforced errors. Muguruza hopes to make her fourth career grand slam final and her second career French Open final.
Already, however, she is assured of keeping the world No 1 ranking after this event. "I think everyone would ask me questions, as well", she said.
"Coming into this part of the year, I was losing a few first-round matches, matches that I wanted to be winning, of course", Sharapova said.
Muguruza fired a shot heard round the world - or at least heard around the Bois de Boulogne - on Wednesday when she overpowered that savage ball striker, Maria Sharapova. Sharapova suffered one of her abject losses at the Slams since her 6-3 6-0 battering at the hands of Victoria Azarenka in the 2012 Australian Open final.
Muguruza had thrashed Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals but Halep was a different proposition entirely, and it seemed she knew it.
"I will try my best", Halep told the crowd at Court Phillipe Chatrier, "and hopefully I will be better than a year ago". "But, yeah, I think she made everyone wait a little bit".
"I started in the first set not matching her level", said Muguruza, the reigning Wimbledon champion.
Halep won the match 6-1, 6-4 and managed to keep the number one spot in the WTA ranking.
"She was the aggressive one", Sharapova said. "Looking at Madrid, Rome, I think that's always one of the toughest back-to-backs on the calendar, especially on a surface like clay. It's a nice opportunity, a big challenge, so I have just to feel happy after the match that I gave everything".
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