Halep Wins First Rome Title After Pliskova Retires

WASHINGTON, September 21, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Top-seeded Simona Halep came out ready to play when she stepped out on Centrale for her Internazionali BNL d’Italia final against Karolina Pliskova Monday afternoon. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the defending champion Pliskova. She arrived with a heavily wrapped left thigh and struggled to find any rhythm in her game. While it may not have mattered, after 32 minutes of struggle, Pliskova could not continue the match.

The championship final will be recorded as Halep winning by retirement, ahead 6-2, 2-1, when the World No. 4 Pliskova came over to tap racquets with Halep.

The former World No. 1 Halep won her first Italian Open trophy after two previous runner-up finishes in 2017 and 2018. Now ranked No. 2, she’s well set for Roland Garros, where as the top seed she will attempt to win the French Open for the second time when the world’s premier clay-court tournament begins Sunday in Paris.

Monday’s meeting was the 12th between Halep and Pliskova, who had won three of their four most recent matches – including the last time they met on clay two years ago in Madrid. However, this time produced different outcome and, ultimately, Halep became the first Romanian woman to win the Rome title.

Halep won the opening set in only 21 minutes as she surrendered just nine points and broke Pliskova’s serve in all three of the Czech’s service games. At one point, Halep won 11 straight points and 13 of 14. Then, after Pliskova took a brief medical time out, Halep picked up where she left off, breaking her opponent’s serve two more times. In all, Halep hit nine winners and only made five unforced errors, while Pliskova managed just five winners and committed 16 unforced errors. Halep won 35 of the 53 points that were contested in the brief match – 14 on her serve and 21 on her returns.

Looking ahead, Halep will arrive at Roland Garros with a 14-match winning streak that goes back to the start of Dubai in February. Since then, she’s lifted trophies in Dubai (defeating Elena Rybakina), Prague (beating Elise Mertens) and now Rome. The winning streak matches one that Halep compiled in 2015, when she won Dubai, Indian Wells and reached the Miami semifinals.

“In 2013 here, I started to come to the top of world tennis,” Halep said during the trophy presentation. “I really enjoyed and I was really happy on court that I could do the semifinals back then. 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 happy I have this beautiful trophy in my hands.”

After Pliskova picked up her runner-up trophy, she said: “Disappointing for me to not finish today, but Simo, obviously too strong. I always have to be 100 percent to play a good match against you. Congratulations for the whole week. I think you deserve the title.”

Later, in her virtual news conference, Pliskova was asked about her availability to play Roland Garros because of her injury setback, which she said first occurred back in her quarterfinal match against Mertens on Saturday. “I hope to be ready. There’s a week, so I can get plenty of time.

“I think [the injury] has been a combination of playing every day and some tough matches. There’s been a lot of running and sliding. [The pain] was growing with every day. …

“I asked myself for a second if I should play and I thought I wanted to at least try. I know [now] it didn’t look really good.”

When it was Halep’s turn to address the media virtually, her tone of voice conveyed that of feeling happy and relaxed. “Finally, I won the title of this tournament. It was my dream to win this title. I’m really happy I won today.”

Looking ahead to Roland Garros, Halep said: “I’m not going to put pressure on myself. I’ve played really well this year – I have three titles already – and I’ve played so much on clay. I feel confident and I’m happy I have a chance to play another Grand Slam this year. I’ll take the positives from this tournament and to go there smiling.”