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Defiant Halep is playing through the pain barrier

By Eleanor Crooks

Simona Halep refused to believe her French Open dreams were over before they had begun and now stands one win away from her first Grand Slam title.

The Romanian, who will face Jelena Ostapenko today, was installed as the favourite after retaining her title at the Madrid Open last month and went on to reach another final at the Italian Open the following week.

But during that match against Elina Svitolina, Halep went over on her right ankle, and when a scan showed a torn ligament, her chances of even being in Paris were rated only 50/50.

Not by Halep, though.

"I was scared because they told me that it (the ligament) is broken," she said. "I had no idea what it meant.

"But I refused to accept that I couldn't play, so I think I recovered faster mentally because of the positive thinking, and I really wanted to be here. So it didn't matter what the scan showed."

The ankle is not perfect but Halep negotiated the early rounds comfortably and has survived scraps with Svitolina, who she trailed by a set and 5-1, and Karolina Pliskova.

"I don't know how it is okay," said Halep. "I feel pain during the match, but I don't care. I'm not thinking about that."

Now the 25-year-old will attempt to go one better than in 2014, when she lost narrowly to Maria Sharapova.

This time the boot is on the other foot, with Halep the experienced head against a player who has never won a senior title and celebrated her semi-final win on her 20th birthday.

The Romanian also has the carrot of knowing victory would see her overtake Angelique Kerber as World No.1.

"She's much younger than me," said Halep. "Of course she has nothing to lose. It's a big thing for her. But I feel that I'm in the same position. I played once before here and I was very close to winning it. But if it's going to happen this time, it's going to be great. If not, I will have many years ahead to work."

Ostapenko, ranked 47, has been the outsider who has seized her chance in a wide open field, blasting her way to wins against Sam Stosur, Caroline Wozniacki and Timea Bacsinszky.

Ostapenko is the first ever Latvian player to reach a Grand Slam final.

Her success is big news in the Baltic nation, with the country's president Raimonds Vejonis offering his congratulations.

"He actually called my mum," she said. "Nobody knows my number. But it was really nice because the president called. That means a lot already."

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