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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, July 31, 2016

Simona Halep

Simona Halep dissected Madison Keys, 7-6 (2), 6-3, capturing her first Rogers Cup title and third championship of the season.

Photo credit: Christopher Levy

Champions learn from losses and Simona Halep put her practical education to good use today.

Halep couldn't handle the heat retiring from the final set of the 2015 Rogers Cup final. She cooled down the blistering serve of Madison Keys in a triumphant Rogers Cup final return.

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Playing solid ball-control rallies, Halep broke serve five times deconstructing Keys, 7-6 (2), 6-3, to claim her first Montreal title and third championship of the season.

"It means a lot," Halep told ESPN's Rennae Stubbs afterward. "It was really nice to win today. I can say I had bad memories from last year that I had to stop in the final. I feel tired. I gave it everything I had to win this title."

Halep had little time to celebrate her 14th career singles crown.

The first woman since Martina Hingis in 2000 to reach the Rogers Cup singles and doubles finals, the 24-year-old Romanian was due back on court to play the doubles final with Monica Niculescu against the Russian team of Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.

"Don't go away, I've got a doubles final in 20 minutes," Halep joked to her coach Darren Cahill and team.

Bidding for her first career hard-court title, Keys had won 21 of her last 24 matches, including three-set victories over Venus Williams and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova this week.

The 12th-ranked Keys cracked 40 aces en route to the final, but her vaunted serve wasn't a major weapon today. Keys served 55 percent, but won just 51 percent of her first-serve points, hit three aces against three double faults and faced 11 break points.

Unforced errors plagued Keys, who tends to lose the shape of her shots under pressure and sometimes slapped flat drives into net.

Patiently playing cross-court combinations, Halep reeled off her third straight game holding at 30 for 4-2.

Down double break point in the next game, Keys used the kick serve effectively to keep the ball out of the 5'6" Romanian's strike zone rallying to hold for 3-4.

Spinning in her serve at times, Halep donated the break back with a double fault. The former French Open finalist served for the first set at 5-4, but betrayed her cause with timid serves. Keys scorched a backhand winner down the line breaking at love to level. By then, the powerful American had won eight of the last nine points on Halep's serve.

Decelerating on her forehand at times cost Halep, but she settled in and broke for the fourth time for 6-5.

Serving for the set again, Halep couldn't muster up much sting on her serve. Keys scored her second straight love break to force the tie break.

Playing with more spin and height on her shots, Halep kept the ball deep allowing Keys to implode in the breaker. Four straight errors from the No. 10 seed gave Halep five set points. When Keys clanked her 27th error, Halep closed an erratic set in which the pair combined for eight service breaks.

Scoring the only break of the second-set for a 2-0 lead, Halep heard the rhythmic chants of "See-Mona! See-Mona!" from Romanian fans waving the nation's flag and urging her on the finish line.

Halep served with more confidence in the second set. She won 11 of 15 first-serve points and did not face a break point in the second set after dropping all four break points she faced in the first.

Keys slapped a forehand into net to end a 75-minute encounter.

The pair are separated by just three years in age and may be seeing a lot more of each other in future finals.

It wasn't Halep's best tennis, but she was gritty throughout much of the match, redirected Keys' pace shrewdly and struck with greater accuracy at critical stages.
"She hits very strong, it's really tough to defend her balls," Halep said. "I knew I had to be strong on my legs. I wanted to be aggressive, but I couldn't. In the end, I just wanted to be solid. I did it and it was a great win against her; she's a very good player."


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