Two weeks before the WTA tour shut its doors for five months, Simona Halep won her first title of the 2020 season by prevailing in final set tiebreaker over Elena Rybakina in Dubai. She had pulled out of Indian Wells due to tendinitis and inflammation in her right foot, and used the COVID-19-induced shutdown to her advantage in allowing?the injury proper?time to heal.
On Sunday, Halep completed a triumphant return to action by raising her 21st trophy in Prague, defeating No. 3 seed Elise Mertens, 6-2, 7-5. Making her event debut, the 28-year-old won five singles matches over six days to become the first No. 1 seed to lift the trophy since Karolina Pliskova tasted victory at?the inaugural edition in 2015.
“She’s a great opponent and it’s always tough to play against her,” Halep said in an on-court interview afterwards. “She’s fast and takes the ball very quick. I just fought until the end. Mentally, I was strong and that’s why I could win this match.”
Mertens opened the final with a 2-0 lead, but soon, the match was Halep’s for an extended period. The world No. 2 unloaded on a backhand up the line to break for 3-2, then erased four break points to consolidate. Halep would string together seven consecutive games before Mertens stopped the bleeding.
After losing her early break advantage in the second, Halep regained the momentum to move ahead 4-2. The Belgian stayed with Halep and in the eighth game, put away a cross-court backhand to get back on serve. But at 5-5, Halep prevailed in an extended rally to put the match on her racquet, and she served it out to notch her fourth victory in five meetings with Mertens.
Halep is on a nine-match win streak. Her decision on flying to New York for the two-tournament bubble at Flushing Meadows will?be revealed in due course, according to the Romanian.
“Monday I will have it,” Halep said. “Now is too fast to make a decision. I just want to enjoy this victory and then I will have a thought about the US Open.” (Editor's Note: On Monday, Halep posted on social media that she would not be making the trip to compete in New York)
Mertens, who lost in the first round of Palermo last week, felt getting that initial taste of being back on tour allowed her to be mentally prepared the second time around.
"I didn't feel as good last week as I did this week, because the first match, I was a little bit slower, I didn't know what to do yet," said Mertens.?"I was finding my focus again, finding myself. So I?managed that better this week. I'm pretty pleased with the level I played. And I think I really [built] it up."