By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) - Simona Halep is a player with a plan. A few of them in fact.
While lacking the power of some of the biggest names in the women's game, the wily Romanian has plotted her way through to the French Open final without dropping a set thanks to an ability to adapt to circumstances.
She displayed that handy knack again on Thursday when she beat Germany's Andrea Petkovic 6-2 7-6(4) after briefly running into a spot of bother in the second set.
From a break down the fourth seed hit back to force a tiebreak and went on to become the first Romanian for 34 years to reach the final of a grand slam.
"I have a few plans during the match, but I just want to play my style: to be aggressive and to stay very close to the baseline," Halep told reporters.
No doubt she will already be conjuring some tactics to unsettle Maria Sharapova in Saturday's final when she hopes to emulate her advisor Virginia Ruzici who won the title in 1978 and reached the final two years later.
Although she was not letting on, other to say she wants to make up for losing to the Russian in the final in Madrid in the build-up to the French Open.
"I don't know how I have to play to beat Maria," she said.
"But I have to take that revenge. I will fight for this one. I played a really good match in Madrid first set. I started really well. I was very fast on court, and I opened the angles.
"But she came back very well. Now, I have to be aggressive again, to play fast, like my style, and to stay there with the nerves. It will be a tough moment for me."
With so many top names falling early in the draw, defending champion Serena Williams leading the way, Halep found herself the highest seed left in the draw by halfway but has shown remarkable calmness as she swatted opponents to one side.
While possessing a solid all-round game, her big weapon is clearly what goes on between her ears and her ability to anticipate what her opponent is doing.
"The thing is, you have to take the time away from her. If you don't do that, she just starts opening up the court and she plays so smart," Petkovic said.
Although her initial plan is to prowl along the baseline and search for openings, Halep knows when to throw in a curve ball.
"I think I did well, because in the tiebreak I changed a little bit and I hit a dropshot. She didn't know how to play that point, so I won that one," said Halep.
"That was the very important moment of the second set."
Halep has not dropped a set in the tournament, losing an average of five games per match.
She is the most improved player on the WTA Tour in the past year, racing up the rankings from 57 at last year's Roland Garros, and will rise to third in the world next week with Wimbledon approaching.
All she is thinking about, however, is Saturday's final.
"I said many times that the ranking is not really important for me," she said. "More important is to play, to win many more matches, and to play finals and to win titles.
"I didn't expect this last year, but if I'm here, I have to enjoy the moment and to take more confidence in myself."
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Martyn Herman)