Halep triumphs in Prague

Simona Halep need not have worried about her return to the match court after a 5-month break due to the suspension of the WTA Tour in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, reverting to her winning ways by winning the title at the Prague Open on Sunday with an impressive 6-2 7-5 win over Elise Mertens.

I was a little worried at the beginning but here we felt very safe, and all the restrictions and rules were respected - we can do tournaments like this week. I feel it's a big chance for us to participate again. It's very different and a little stressful and we have to adjust ourselves, but the fact that everyone was good these 10 days means that everything was really well done. Simona Halep

“It was really tough to get back to official matches after such a long break,” Halep admitted after winning WTA title No 21.

“The emotions after staying in the room for 10 days were not easy – but you know, I have to take the positives also, I was able to win the tournament which means a lot.

“I was a little worried at the beginning but here we felt very safe, and all the restrictions and rules were respected – we can do tournaments like this week,

“I feel it’s a big chance for us to participate again. It’s very different and a little stressful and we have to adjust ourselves, but the fact that everyone was good these 10 days means that everything was really well done.”

Claiming the Prague Open title in straight sets marked an improvement on the struggles the Romanian experienced earlier in the week as she shook off the rust.

Halep, who won the Dubai title in February, had struggled during opening few rounds to find her rhythm, but she was in good shape during the 1-hour and 33-minute win in the final.

The Romanian broke 3 times in both sets, but Mertens did score a break in the first set, and 2 more in the second.

“I’m very pleased about the way I was adjusting my game to her game,” Halep said. “At the beginning I was hitting too strong, too flat and she was quicker than me and playing closer to the baseline.

“I tried to change the rhythm, played a little bit higher and further from her body, and it was much better.”

The Romanian has now collected trophies in both her last tournament before the WTA Tour shutdown, in Dubai in February, and her first tournament since its resumption, with this week extending her winning streak to 9 matches and counting.


Simona Halep got the better of Elise Mertens the Prague final at TK Sparta Praha on Sunday

© Martin Sidorjak/Getty Images

Halep had to battle to find her groove at times this week, needing a third-set tiebreak to survive Polona Hercog in the first round, having to come from a set and a break down in both second and third sets against Barbora Krejcikova in the second, and trailing compatriot Irina-Camelia Begu by a first-set break three times in the semifinals.

On Sunday, the World No 2 hit top form to take a stranglehold over the contest, winning a straight-forward first set and seeing off a Mertens fight-back in the second to push Halep to a 7th game but finishing it off with a flourish.

Blazing a series of backhand winners down the line, Mertens demonstrated some of her formidable final form straight out of the blocks to break for a 2-0 lead, but Halep raised her aggression before coming through a pair of key multi-deuce mini-tussles to reel off a ‘hidden bagel’ to snatch the set, winning 7 games on the trot.

Boldly taking the Mertens delivery on whenever possible, Halep’s ability to send her responses to the far corners put the Belgian on the defensive, and she was sharp in putting the finishing touches to her put-aways.

Edging ahead 3-2 by upping the ante, Halep played the bigger points better, escaping a 0-40 hole on her own serve by breaking down the Mertens forehand before preventing the World No 23 from essaying an identical Houdini act in the next game with a bruising pair of backhands to seal a 5-2 lead.

She held Mertens at bay in more gruelling exchanges with great defence-to-offence skills.

Halep lost the 2019 Doha final to Mertens from a set and a break up, though, and that prospect reared its head again as the Belgian valiantly clung on.

From 2-4 down, the 24-year-old pegged Halep back to 4-4 and, after saving a break point in the 9th game, moved to within 3 points of forcing a decider as she held for 5-4.

Afterwards, Halep explained that she had felt fatigued from the rigours of her first week back.

“In the second set I was 4-2 up, but I was dead,” she laughed. “I was tired, I couldn’t move very well – but again today, mentally, I was really strong, and that’s why I was able to win in two sets.”

At the business end of the set, a 6th double fault from Mertens opened the door for Halep at 5-5, who forced her way through with impeccable, relentless baseline offence.

Serving for the title, a marvellous backhand winner down the line that landed in the corner of the court set up 2 championship points, and Halep would seal the first with a heavy, off forehand that drew the error from her opponent.

Thrilled to win her 21st career WTA trophy, the fifth-highest tally of active players behind only Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters and Petra Kvitova, Halep said: “I’m very pleased about the way I was adjusting my game to her game.”

Mertens finished with an uncharacteristic 32 unforced errors to 20 winners, while Halep was superior in both categories, with 21 winners to 17 unforced errors.

Meanwhile Halep, the World No 2, confirmed that she would make a decision on Monday on whether or not she will play at the US Open.





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