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Perfect timing for Simona Halep as she reaches first Grand Slam semifinal at Roland Garros

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PARIS - What Simona Halep lacks in height, she makes up for in timing.

The fourth-seeded Romanian is the highest seeded player remaining in the French Open draw, and also the smallest at 1.68 metres — 12 centimetres shorter than Andrea Petkovic, her semifinal opponent on Thursday.

If she beats the 28th-seeded German, Halep will then face either four-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova or Canada's Eugenie Bouchard in Saturday's final. While Bouchard is 10 centimetres taller than her, Sharapova dwarfs Halep by 20 centimetres.

That matters little to the 22-year-old Halep, who had never been beyond the second round at Roland Garros before, and had only reached the fourth round twice at any Grand Slam.

She has found a way to compensate for not being as powerful as other players.

"I try to hit stronger, but I cannot because I'm not very tall," said Halep, who has yet to drop a set during the tournament. "I try to play fast, to open the court very well, to open the angles, and to take the ball very fast, to stay very close to the baseline."

Halep had little trouble dispatching 27th-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-2, 6-2, thrilling the Suzanne Lenglen crowd as she wrong-footed the Russian time and time again with superbly-timed shots.

"I feel the court very well and also the game," Halep said.

Kuznetsova, the French Open champion in 2009, would agree with that. She even applauded after Halep wrong-footed her with a crisp two-handed backhand down the line.

"She plays always very smart tennis," the 28-year-old Kuznetsova said. "She doesn't overpower you. She takes off the speed very well."

Halep's great timing is helped by her general love of ball sports.

"I played also this morning a little bit of football with my physio in the gym," she said. "I like to play with the ball every sport. I did also handball in school."

Halep has more titles in the past 13 months than any player other than Serena Williams and is the only player to have won on clay, grass and hard courts during that spell. She was ranked 47th at the end of 2012, shot up rapidly to No. 11 last year — when she won six of her seven career titles — and is now No. 4, ranked behind Agnieszka Radwanska, Li Na and Williams.

She leads Petkovic 2-1 in their career head-to-heads, and they are 1-1 on clay.

"I played against her one year ago at Nuremberg in the final," Halep said. "Maybe she improve more. I improve more, also."

They are both in a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time — and for the 26-year-old Petkovic it's a very scary feeling.

Petkovic considered retiring from tennis after a succession of injuries to her back, ankle and knee saw her drop out of the top 10 and plummet to 143rd. She missed five of the eight Grand Slams in 2012 and 2013.

"I'm just so scared that it might slip away," Petkovic said. "So now every time I have happy moments and nice wins, it immediately brings the doubt and the fear."

Petkovic beat 10th-seeded Sara Errani, the 2012 French Open runner-up, 6-2, 6-2.

"When it was 6 2, 5-2 I sat down and I said to myself, 'OK, Andrea, are you going to get tight now? And I paused and I said, 'No, not now.'"

In Thursday's other semifinal, the seventh-seeded Sharapova leads the 18th-seeded Bouchard 2-0, beating her in the second round at Roland Garros last year. Sharapova rallied from a set down to beat Halep in the Madrid Masters final last month.

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