MADRID: Simona Halep is a win away from reclaiming her No.1 spot after downing an erratic Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-0, in the semi-finals of the Madrid Open.
Halep, who is seeking a third title at the Caja Magica, was forced to dig deep during what was a roller coaster encounter that consisted of numerous momentum changes. Despite dropping serve three times, she managed to come out on top with the help of 29 winners and capitalized on 33 unforced errors committed by Bencic.
“I feel a little bit tired but it’s normal because she was playing very fast,” Halep said afterward during her on-court interview. “I had to concentrate on every ball, it was tough that I lost the second set.’
“I was rushing myself and I had to calm down and open the court a bit more. I was too far back and couldn’t dominate the match from there.”
Just 15 places separate the two players in the WTA rankings, but it is completely different when it comes to the clay. Friday marked Halep’s 21st appearance in the semi-final of a WTA event on the dirt. A stark contrast to former French Open girls champion Bencic, who was playing in only her second and first since Charleston 2014. On the other hand, Bencic boasted a perfect 5-0 record against top-five opposition this year before today.
It was a perfect start for the Romanian as she broke immediately against her lackluster opponent. However, it wasn’t long before the roller coaster got going. Bencic, who never won a match in Madrid prior to this week, responded well by breaking to draw level at 2-2. Nevertheless, it was Halep who came out on top in the opener with the help of a four-game winning streak to close in on the final.
The turmoil continued into the second set with four out of five games being decided by a break. Both Halep and Bencic were far from thrilled with their performances. Smashing both the balls and their rackets onto the ground out of sheer frustration.
With little to distinguish between the two, Bencic continued to fight. The Swiss world No.18 was in clinical fashion throughout the tiebreaker as she raced to a 4-0 lead with the help of some errors made from across the court. Halep tried to recover, but a backhand drifting wide placed her at a 2-5 deficit. Allowing Bencic to force the match into a decider with the help of a serve out wide that draw another error from Halep.
Dropping a set for the first time this week, the world No.3 responded emphatically by racing out to a 3-0 lead in the decider. Leaving her opponent in tears as she spoke to her father during one of the changeovers. With the Swiss player rattled both physically and mentally, the two-time champion surged towards the finish line. Closing the match out with a bagel. Her fourth of the tournament.
“I try to do everything I can when I step onto the court.” Said Halep, who is currently coping with a cold. “I am always motivated when I come to Madrid. It’s my special tournament.’
“I’m close to 100 percent (healthy), but I’m not quite there. It’s getting better day-by-day.”
Friday’s win is Halep’s 25th in Madrid. The second highest of all-time in the women’s tournament after Petra Kvitova (29). In the final, she will play either Sloane Stephens or Kiki Bertens. Two players who she has a winning head-to-head record against.
“A final is a final. I just want to be focused on myself as I have been throughout the week.” She summarised.
Halep must win the Madrid title is she wishes to dethrone Naomi Osaka from the top of the rankings. She has already held that position for 64 weeks in what is the 10th longest stretch in the Open Era on the WTA Tour.
In-Form Liudmila Samsonova Storms To Tokyo Title
Tokyo is the second tournament this year the Russian has won without dropping a set.
Liudmila Samsonova has continued her rapid surge on the Tour by defeating China’s Qinwen Zheng 7-5, 7-5, to win the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo.
The world No.30 dropped serve only once and hit four aces as she edged her way past rising star Zheng who is the first Chinese teenager to reach the final of a Tour-level singles event. Overall, Samsonova won 68% of her service points en route to becoming the first Russian player to win the tournament since Nadia Petrova in 2012.
“It’s amazing, I don’t have too many words right now. I need a little bit of time,” said Samsonova, who beat Grand Slam champions Elena Rybakina and Garbine Muguruza earlier in the draw.
“It was a really tough match. She is playing amazing. It was a nervous match, we were fighting every point. It was tough.”
Samsonova is becoming a formidable force in the women’s game and has now won 18 out of her past 19 matches. Last month she also won titles in Washington and Cleveland before reaching the last 16 of the US Open for the first time in her career at the age of 23. She is now 4-0 in tournament finals and didn’t drop a set in Tokyo this week.
“I played a high level in all my five matches. I am incredibly happy about how I managed it,” she said.
There is also a reason for Zheng to celebrate with her run in Tokyo securing her place in the world’s top 30 for the first time on Monday when the rankings are updated. Making her the first Chinese player to do so as a teenager. She is also only the second teenager to reach the final of a WTA 500 event or higher this season after Coco Gauff at the French Open.
Samsonova will also rise to a ranking high on Monday to just outside the world’s top 20.
Naomi Osaka Seeks Resurgence At Home Event After Rollercoaster Year
Former world No.1 Naomi Osaka admits that there have been more downs than ups for her this year but she is maintaining a positive outlook.
The four-time Grand Slam champion has played 22 matches so far this season with her win-loss record currently standing at 13-9. However, at her six most recent tournaments she has failed to win back-to-back matches and is currently on a four-match losing streak. Osaka also missed this year’s Wimbledon Championships due to an achilles injury.
Currently ranked 44th in the world, Osaka is hoping to break her slump at this week’s Toray Pan Pacific Open which will be held in Tokyo. It will be the first time she has played since losing to Danielle Collins in the first round of the US Open.
“I think, of course, the year has (not been) the best year for me,” Osaka said during her pre-tournament press conference. “But I think overall I’ve learned a lot about myself and I’m just happy to be healthy. Because in Europe, I did injure myself, and that was like my first injury that took me that long to get healed.
“I think life is kind of ups and downs and this one was kind of more down than up, but overall I’m pretty happy with where I am now.”
Osaka is the defending champion in Tokyo, even though she won the tournament back in 2019. The event has been cancelled for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot has happened to the Japanese player since she won the title, both on and off the court. Osaka has spoken publicly about her mental health issues and took time away from the sport because of them.
“It feels really weird to hear that I’m the defending champion because it was the last time I played in 2019,” she said. “I would love to win it again, but I think just taking it one match at a time … and also just playing in front of a crowd in Tokyo again, because the Olympics was crowdless, so it will just be nice to see people.”
This year Osaka does not have a seeding in the Tokyo draw which is in stark contrast to three years ago when she was the highest-ranked player in the tournament. She will begin her campaign against Australia’s Daria Saville and could then face fifth seed, Beatriz Haddad Maia, in the last 16.
“I think every year for me since the first Slam, there’s been a lot of changes,” Osaka said. “But I think this year it has definitely been a real growing year for me. I think tennis-wise, I don’t really think I can go in a wrong direction. I feel like me as a player, my base is pretty solid. I can only really learn more about myself. I know that I am an aggressive player and I can only hope to keep doing that.”
Away from the Tour, the 24-year-old remains one of the highest-earning players in the sport. According to a report published by Forbes in August, she earned in the region of £56.2M over 12 months with $55M of that coming from off-court ventures. She has also set up her own sports agency with long-time agent Stuart Duguid, signing Nick Kyrgios as one of her clients.
“For everything off court, I think it’s really cool how tennis has let me get so many opportunities in things that I’m interested in, and it’s something I’m really happy and grateful for and I can only hope it keeps evolving.” She commented.
This week Osaka is seeking to win her first title of any sort since the 2021 Australian Open.
Simona Halep Ends 2022 Season With Nose Surgery And Mental Exhaustion
Simona Halep will return to the court in 2023.
Simona Halep has ended her season after having nose surgery and suffering from mental exhaustion in recent months.
The two-time Grand Slam champion has had a mixed season this year with the Romanian almost quitting the sport in February.
However the former world number one reunited with Patrick Mouratoglou and produced a world-class grass court season and US Hard court swing to get back into the world’s top ten.
Despite this, Halep has also had her troubles having had a panic attack at Roland Garros and struggled with anxiety.
This was all produced by the Romanian in her statement when she announced she would not play the rest of the season due to a nose surgery which has been linked to her breathing.
Now Halep will look to recover mentally and physically in time for January’s Australian Open as she will look to become a Grand Slam champion for the third time in her career.
Simona Halep’s 2022 Season:
Melbourne Summer Set 1: Champion
Australian Open: R4 l. Cornet
Dubai: Semi-Finals l. Ostapenko
Qatar: R1 l. Garcia
Indian Wells: Semi-Finals l. Swiatek
Madrid: Quarter-Finals l. Jabeur
Rome: R2 l. Collins
Roland Garros: R2 l. Q. Zheng
Birmingham: Semi-Finals l. Haddad Maia
Bad Homburg: Semi-Finals l. Andreescu
Wimbledon: Semi-Finals l. Rybakina
Washington: R2 l. Kalinskaya
Cincinnati: R2 – Withdrew
US Open: R1 l. Snigur
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