When you have the athleticism to match your aggression, rest assured you are blessed with a killer combination. And Simona Halep was short of none of these two qualities as she punched her ticket to the final of the Qatar Total Open at the expense of Elina Svitolina with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 win at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex yesterday.
Halep will meet unseeded Elise Mertens in the decider today after the Belgian shocked third seed and triple Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 in the second semi-final.
Halep, the top seed in Qatar, had been in tremendous form ever since the 2019 season began, reaching the last 16 of the Australian Open, and helping her beloved Romania clinch a semi-final spot in the Fed Cup for the first time, upsetting the Czech Republic, from where world class women tennis players tumble out of conveyor belts, just like luggage from airport carousels.
The Romanian trailed Svitolina 3-4 head-to-head before their clash yesterday, with two of those four defeats coming in the finals of the Italian Open in Rome in 2017 and 2018.
After her quarter-final win over Julia Goerges on Thursday, Halep had said she was guilty of “giving up” against Svitolina in the past. Yesterday, however, she was determined to stay the course despite trailing 1-4 in the third set to reach her 34th career finals, and second in Doha.
“Just that I don’t want to give up. I felt a little bit pressure that I’m going to lose the match. But I tried to concentrate, to stay calm, and I did it pretty well,” Halep said after the match, expressing happiness at having finally evened the score with Svitolina.
She referred to the two Rome finals especially where she was guilty of not summoning up her full resolve against Svitolina.
“Yeah, I’m happy because I didn’t give up, and the two finals that I played against her in Rome I gave up and I was not ready to fight. Now I changed that, and it makes me happier, because I showed myself that I’m able to do that.”
Svitolina bounced back from a set down to take the second set and carried that momentum into the third, racing to a comfortable 3-0 lead. She was running Halep ragged, before the Romanian held her serve in the fourth game to stay alive.
After Svitolina, too, retained her serve to go up 4-1 again, the pressure was again on Halep in the sixth game which saw seven deuces in a see-saw battle of physicality and nerves, during which the Ukrainian’s defences were tested to the limit.
And sure enough, she crumbled under the pressure as Halep’s superior fitness kicked in. She chased down balls with agility and closed out the game to reduce the deficit.
It was now up to Svitolina to come up with the goods but she produced a poor service game when it mattered most, a wide forehand allowing Halep to narrow the gap further.
After Halep won the next game to level 4-4, Svitolina had well and truly lost her focus as she once again produced an error-ridden service game to give her rival the lead for the first time in the set.
And Halep just had too much experience to avoid a meltdown at this stage, clinching the issue in two hours and seven minutes as Svitolina blasted a forehand out of the court.
Halep said reaching the final again in Doha was particularly pleasing because last year she had to pull out in the semi-finals with a painful foot injury.
“Well, yeah, last year I was really disappointed that I had to pull out. It’s never easy to give up a tournament, a semi-final. I like here. I always play good tennis,” added Halep who has won nearly 29 million dollars in prize money so far.
“So today I was more motivated. When I feel healthy, I give everything on court. That’s why I could win today, because it was a difficult one. I have another chance to play a final here where I like a lot, this tournament.
“It’s a big challenge, also. It’s going to be a tough match. The final is always a tough one with extra pressure, extra emotions. I feel ready. I will recover fast, and tomorrow I will give everything I have to win it.”
Meanwhile for Mertens, it will be her sixth WTA finals. Having won four titles so far, the final today will be Mertens’ third straight match against a Top 10 player this week. She had also defeated the fifth seed Kiki Bertens in the quarter-finals earlier this week.
The Qatar Total Open decider is also the first Premier final for Mertens, although she reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open last year.
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