By Ros Satar, in Cincinnati
- Garbine Muguruza  v Karolina Pliskova 
- Angelique Kerber  v Simona Halep 
CINCINNATI, USA – The WTA semi-finals are set, and the WTA World No. 1 ranking is still on the line.
Garbiñe Muguruza  def. Karolina Pliskova  – H2H: 3-3
In a way all the hubbub around Serena Williams’ withdrawal and the race for the World No. 1 spot has allowed the French Open champion the luxury of skirting under the radar.
She might not have dropped a set, but she has had a few battles royal on her way to the semi-final. After being halted in the Rio 2016 Olympics by the eventual gold medalist she has managed to settle into her rhythm without a large amount of focus on her.
This is her best run in Cincinnati – having failed to get out of qualifying on her debit in 2012, and falling in the first round the last two years, so any achievements here are a bonus, ranking-wise, with a break before the US Open.
Muguruza said, of the forthcoming semi-final: “I think we know each other pretty good. We played I think — well, seems to me like a lot of times. Or practice. I saw a little bit with Kuznetsova. She’s playing well. I think this surface helps her a little bit with her style of game. Just another battle. I think I’m playing a lot of powerful girls in this tournament. Let’s try to keep going.”
Pliskova has managed to rack up some solid performances so far post Wimbledon, with a couple of rounds in Montreal and coming through a spirited defence from Svetlana Kuznetsova en route to her semi-final spot.
Both are big solid hitters and Muguruza is perhaps a break from the norm where Spanish players are concerned. She can defend well, but at her heart she is an attacking player and her height helps her generate a lot of power behind her shots.
Pliskova hinges a lot around a potent serve but perhaps might be the more vulnerable in her movement.
She said, after her win against Kuznetsova: “We didn’t play for a while now so looking forward to this match. Yeah, it’s a big challenge. She’s been playing so far amazing. She is having great tournaments, great victories, so it’s going to be tough.
“I think we have a similar game. Both serving and playing fast from the baseline. It’s going to be about few points. I want to keep focus on my serve this time, and hopefully I can get the win.”
Prediction: Muguruza in two sets.
Kerber  v Halep – H2H: Halep leads 4-2
Agnieszka Radwanska came sprinting out of the blocks after yet another flash rain delay just before the evening session. Perhaps it showed that Halep’s comparatively easy run through the tournament maybe had not tested her as much as say the late night bout between Radwanska and Johanna Konta. Having to come from a set down against the Brit, Radwanska took control after a fairly simple netted backhand saw Konta unravel.
Talking of unravelling – Halep clawed her back to into the match from 0-4 down and it was Radwanska’s turn to be under the pump as Halep edged the first set, before completely dominating in the second set, allowing the Pole just a single game on the board.
Up until Montreal, Kerber was in control of this head to head, but Halep (also a no-goer for Rio) has had a bit more time on her hands.
She admitted that she has (somewhat reluctantly) put in some time in the gym, and she is looking very fit and focussed. Halep has a good all round game, and is a speedy scrambler around the court. She admitted that she expects to have to do a lot of that in their semi-final on Saturday.
Halep said: “She’s a good fighter. She’s playing for every single point, and her game is pretty solid. She has good angles, and the fact that she’s lefty helps her a lot I think in my opinion. And she has great legs as well. She moves very well.
“I have to run. I have to slow down my emotions, because with her you feel that you can go for the balls, like to be aggressive, but it’s not that easy. So I have to be patient. I have to do my game like I did today.
“I think it’s pretty similar with the match, today’s match. I have to fight. I know that I can win. I have this confidence. I know that she’s a great player. I have nothing to lose. I’m going just to do my job and to try to win.”
Kerber continues to bat away the mounting interest on whether she can wrestle the World No. 1 spot away this weekend – and as her consistency has increased this year in particular, she has found herself changing a few things to remain one of the fittest players on the tour.
She told reporters: “I’m not practicing now twice like few months ago when I went to tournaments. I’m trying to go out there practicing really good practice once because I have not too many days before tournaments right now.
“But actually this is only the thing I change. I mean, I try to do my things every day. And also like my treatments, I mean, that’s the same. But of course mentally it’s change a little bit to being ready every day for the matches.”
Kerber snapped her losing streak against Halep this year, but their most recent battle went the way of the Romanian. This has three sets and almost a war of attrition written all over it.
Prediction: Kerber in three sets.
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