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Halep nears top spot

Simona Halep (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Simona Halep (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

MASON, Ohio (AP) – Simona Halep moved within a victory of the No. 1 ranking.

The second-ranked Halep needed just 54 minutes to cruise past Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-1 on Saturday in the Western & Southern Open semifinals, and can displace Karolina Pliskova as the top of the ranking with a victory over Garbine Muguruza on Sunday.

The fourth-ranked Muguruza reached her first W&S final with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over defending champion Pliskova.

The men’s final will feature two first-timers. Grigor Dimitrov outlasted John Isner 7-6 (4), 7-6 (10) in the first men’s semifinal. Nick Kyrgios beat David Ferrer 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4).

Halep, seeking her first No. 1 ranking, has yet to drop a set in the tournament and appears to be peaking at just the right time.

“I think I played my best match on hardcourt so far,” said Halep, who can become the first Romanian woman to be ranked No. 1. “It felt great. I moved very well today. From the first point, I felt like I was going to play good tennis.”

The final Sunday will be the first on American soil for Muguruza, who lost to Pliskova in last year’s W&S semifinals after losing to Serena Williams in the 2015 finals. The Spaniard had lost six straight matches against Pliskova since winning their first in 2013.

“I was very precise with my shots,” said Muguruza, who is 2-1 in her career against Halep, though the two haven’t played since 2015. “I wanted to be more aggressive and take my shots. I felt pretty good out there – under control. Everything went my way.”

Muguruza won when Pliskova sailed a forehand long on the fifth match point. Pliskova, who played part of one match and all of another Friday after rain forced postponements Thursday, had 28 unforced errors to Muguruza’s 13.

Muguruza was coming off playing the tournament’s longest match, a 2-hour, 45-minute three-set win over Svetlana Kuznetsova on Friday. That followed a 2-hour, 18-minute win over Madison Keys on Thursday, when she fought off three match points.

“I don’t think I played my best tennis today,” Pliskova said. “I think the energy was pretty low from my side. Obviously, a tough schedule for me the last two days – three matches in about not even 24 hours.

“I think she played very solid, not missing much and obviously serving well. Everything started, I think, in the first game of the first set.”

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