PARIS – When the French Open final was played a year ago, Sloane Stephens was nowhere near the Roland Garros courts. She was in Chicago with coach Kamau Murray, working her way back from a foot injury that required surgery and sidelined her for 11 months.
"Indoors on a hard court. Getting ready for grass. Barely walking. Playing tennis next to a bunch of 5- and 6-year-old screaming kids," he recalled. "So to be here from there, I think, is rewarding, because those times were not easy."
The times are good now. Stephens closed in on her second Grand Slam title by beating Madison Keys 6-4, 6-4 Thursday in the first all-American semifinal at the French Open since 2002. It was a rematch of the U.S. Open final won by Stephens last September.
"It's always hard playing someone from your country and such a good friend," Stephens said, "so I was really pleased to be able to get through that and play some good tennis."
The 10th-seeded Stephens' opponent in Saturday's final will be Simona Halep, who emphatically ended the impressive French Open run of 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza by defeating her 6-1, 6-4.
Halep, who assured herself of retaining the No. 1 ranking with the victory, earned a fourth chance to win her first major title.
She twice has lost in the final at Roland Garros — to Maria Sharapova in 2014 and to Jelena Ostapenko in 2017 — and was the runner-up to Caroline Wozniacki at the Australian Open in January.
"I lost three times until now and no one died," Halep said, "so it will be OK."
Muguruza, a two-time major champion, entered the semifinals having not lost a set in the tournament. She also was coming off a lopsided victory a day earlier, overwhelming Sharapova 6-2, 6-1.
But it took Muguruza quite a while to get going against Halep, who kept sending ball after ball back over the net. It was 5-0 by the time Muguruza eventually claimed a game.
Like Halep, Stephens is a talented defensive player, and she kept stretching points Thursday until Keys would err.
In all, Keys made 41 unforced errors, 30 more than Stephens.
"It's really tough to get any ball by her, but especially [Thursday]," said Keys, who is now 0-3 against Stephens.