WTA Rome: A Nail Biter To The End Won By Halep

WASHINGTON, September 20 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

It’s too bad there had to be a loser when top seed Simona Halep faced Garbiñe Muguruza in the first Internazionali BNL d’Italia women’s semifinal Sunday afternoon. The former No. 1 players and two-time Grand Slam winners put on a terrific three-setter of a match before about 1,000 live fans on Centrale, who cheered passionately in appreciation for both players. With two different styles of play on display – counterpunching from Halep and aggressive hard-hitting strokes by Muguruza – it’s too bad this match didn’t have a better finish.

By the end of the two-hour and 17-minute nail biter, it came down to the ninth seed Muguruza’s inability to successfully put the ball in play. She double-faulted twice in the decisive game of the final set, including on match point – eight times overall – and it lifted Halep into Monday’s championship match. It’s the Romanian’s third final of the abbreviated 2020 season and she remains in dogged pursuit of her first Rome crown.

Sunday’s score favored Halep, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, and it was her 13th straight victory. There were 16 break points and Halep won the biggest one of them all, with the semifinal-round match on the line, hanging by a thread on Muguruza’s serve.

Neither player was particularly effective in winning points on either their first or second serves – or for that matter in holding their serve. So, it came down to who could play the best defense. In the final set, Muguruza fought back from down 1-5 and made a match of it when she broke Halep in the ninth game to get back on serve. However, at 15-30, successive double faults cost her, and it gave Halep her third straight win on clay over Muguruza.

“The victory is really important,” said Halep, who has reached her third Rome final following 2017 and 2018. “[Garbiñe’s] a difficult and very good player. It’s always a good vibe and feeling when I win against her. I feel confident now that I was able to win this match. I had so many chances to maybe finish it a little easier and faster. As we saw, she doesn’t give up. Credit to her that she fought until the end.”

Only three points separated the two fierce competitors. Halep came out ahead 97-94. While she was outpointed 47-44 on service points, Halep came out ahead on return points 53-47 and it made a big difference.

“I’m happy that I was a little bit stronger in the end and could be aggressive when I needed to,” Halep said.

When Halep was asked if there’s something different that she feels from beating a champion-caliber player like Muguruza, she expressed:

“She’s a great player, a past Grand Slam champion. In my opinion, she’s one of the best players in the world – even if she is out of the Top 10 now. It doesn’t matter. It’s always tough to play against her.”

Pliskova reaches second consecutive Rome final

In Monday’s final, Halep will face defending champion and No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova, who held off 12th seed and fellow Czech Marketa Vondrousova, 6-2, 6-4, in one hour and 22 minutes to punch her ticket to her second straight Rome final.

Pliskova raced out to a 4-1 advantage in the opening set, then held a 4-2 lead against Vondrousova in the second set before the 2019 French Open finalist broke back. However, after Pliskova fought off a break point in the ninth game to hold her serve, she broke Vondrousova to close out the semifinal victory.

The World No. 4 finished with 23 winners against 21 unforced errors and converted five of her 13 break-point opportunities. Pliskova outpointed Vondrousova 72-56.

During her post-match virtual press conference, Pliskova talked about her relationship with playing tennis on clay. She said: “It’s been a strange relationship with clay, but it’s not like I ever hated it. If anything, I hate grass more. I’ve had some great weeks on clay, making the semis in Paris, so it’s not like I don’t look forward to the surface. It’s a nice change because we spend a quite a long time on hard courts.

“I feel like I have more time to play my game on clay, and some my best matches and victories have been on clay. I feel it can be for me, and with every year I prove that even more, winning smaller tournaments, then indoors in Stuttgart, then Rome last year. Now I feel like I can replicate those results without huge preparation on clay, because there obviously wasn’t that much time. With me, it’s always about my mental side, how I feel, where I’m at, and whether I can enjoy.”

Hsieh and Strycova win fourth doubles title of 2020

No. 1 seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Barbora Strycova won their fourth WTA doubles title of the season with a straight-set win over Anna-Lena Friedsam and Raluca Olaru Sunday afternoon on Pietrangeli.

Hsieh and Strycova, playing together for the first time since the WTA relaunch, needed just 63 minutes to prevail 6-2, 6-2. In outpointed their opponents 54-32, they improved their season win-loss record to 21-1 and their Rome title adds to a season that has already seen them lift trophies in Brisbane, Dubai and Doha.