Top-seeded Simona Halep accomplished her ambition of winning her first Italian Open title on Monday, when 2019 champion Karolína Plíšková retired midway through the final with a left thigh injury.
In 2013 here I started to [reach] the top of world tennis. Since then I started to play really well and, finally, after two finals, I could win this title. I love this tournament and I'm really happy that I have this beautiful trophy in my hands now. Simona Halep
It was not, perhaps, the way the Romanian would have liked to achieve it, but she took the win anyway when it was offered with her leading 6-0, 2-1 when Plíšková stopped playing after just 31 minutes.
“I know that’s not the way how Karolina wanted to finish the tournament and the final,” Halep said at the trophy presentation ceremony. “Good luck in the French Open, hopefully we will meet again, there, in the final.”
Plíšková attempted to continue playing after receiving treatment on her lower back and leg between sets, but eventually decided to retire, not willing to take any chances before the French Open which begins on Sunday, 27 September.
“Disappointed for me not to finish today,” Plíšková said during the ceremony. “But Simo, obviously too strong.
“I always have to be 100% to play a good match against you. Congratulations for the whole week. I think you deserve the title.”
Both players wore face masks as they picked up their trophies themselves.
Halep, who lost the 2017 and 2018 Rome finals to Elina Svitolina, extended her perfect record after the tour restarted to 10-0.
“In 2013 here I started to [reach] the top of world tennis,” The two-time Grand Slam champion said, recalling her surprise run to the semi-finals that year. “Since then I started to play really well and, finally, after two finals, I could win this title.
“I love this tournament and I’m really happy that I have this beautiful trophy in my hands now,””
The World No 2 has improved to 14-0 overall, stretching back to February, when she won a title in Dubai.
After the tour’s five-month break because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Romanian returned by winning the trophy in Prague last month, but skipped the US Open because of travel and health concerns.
Due to the pandemic, a crowd of only 1,000 fans was allowed inside the 10,500-seat Campo Centrale stadium.
The tournament, which was rescheduled from its usual May slot due to the pandemic, also had reduced prize money.
Halep collected a winner’s check of €205,190 ($242,000), which is down from the €523,858 ($616,000) awarded to Plíšková last year and a paltry €10 less than Novak Djokovic earned from his title win.
In racing out to a 5-0 lead in the opening set, Halep broke the tall Czech defending champion 3 times and also saved 3 break points at 0-40 down in the 4th game.
She shook off a hard fall in the second game, maintaining her aggressive and disciplined best, while Plíšková looked sluggish as she failed to hit a single winner and was bagelled in 20 minutes.
The limited number of fans allowed into Foro Italico’s centre court urged Plíšková to make it a contest, applauding the rare points she got on the score board, and it seemed to work as the second set started with the pair breaking each other, but the Czech was clearly struggling with the injury.
The visit from the physio ahead of the second set prompted signs of life as Plíšková got on the board to even things but Haep was undeterred, moving ahead by a break once more when the Czech decided she could no longer continue, having been broken for a 5th time.
Despite the abrupt finish, Halep was on song, still managing 9 winners to just 5 unforced errors and converting 5 of 7 break point opportunities.
Plíšková, however, converted 1 of 4 and in trying to shorten the points in the second set, she struck 5 winners after not making any in the opener, but was clearly hampered as evidenced by 16 unforced errors.
“I started my rise up the rankings at this tournament in 2013, so I’ve always dreamed of having this title,” Halep said. “I’m really happy that it happened today.
“It was a good energy on court.”
Halep has now won the last 3 tournaments she has played, having also lifted the trophy in Dubai and Prague, and this victory extends her winning streak to 14 matches so she now heads to Roland Garros as one of the firm favourites, with World No 1 Ashleigh Barty and US Open champion Naomi Osaka both skipping the tournament this year.
Hsieh & Strycova take doubles title
Prior to the Italian Open, the last time Su-Wei Hsieh and Barbora Strycova were on court together was back in February, when they won their 3rd title in 4 events in Doha.
Given their level of play in Rome, it is obvious last year’s Wimbledon champions have not missed a beat.
Facing the unseeded duo of Anna-Lena Friedsam & Raluca Olaru in the championship match, Strycova and Hsieh put on a doubles clinic, taking the final, 6-2 6-2, in 63 minutes.
Their 2020 record together is now 21-1 in matches, with their only loss coming in the Australian Open final, and have only lost 6 sets total across those 22 matches.
In Rome they produced a perfect 8-0 in the sets they played.
“After five months, you don’t know what to expect,” Strycova said, during the team’s post-match press conference. “In doubles, you have a small court and it’s tough to get into the rhythm.
“But I felt like we started off [well] right away from the first match. I felt we were playing better and better.
“[The win-loss record] is incredible, but for me, more incredible is that we are so consistent in our performances, which is really important,” Strycova added. “The winning is a huge plus, but we’re working on it every single day, with Su-wei, on court, to get better, and it’s paying off.”
A loss in the Australian Open final to Timea Babos & Kristina Mladenovic is the only blemish on an otherwise flawless year for the top seeds, and they showed their best against the unseeded pairing of Friedsam & Olaru, who had upset two seeded tandems on the way to their first final as a team.
“It’s amazing to see Barbora again, we’ve played together since last year, and we did a really great job at a lot of tournaments,” said Hsieh. “I feel stable, safe. When Barbora is on court, I’m safe!” laughed the player from Chinese Taipei.