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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, August 11, 2020

 
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Simona Halep converted her seventh match point fighting off Polona Hercog 6-1, 1-6, 7-6(3) to win her comeback match on the red clay of Prague.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Clumps of red clay streaked the back of Simona Halep’s legs and rust riddled her game at closing time.

Shaking off both adversaries, Halep converted her seventh match point edging a gritty Polona Hercog 6-1, 1-6, 7-6 (3) in her comeback match at the Prague Open.

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It took Halep two-and-a-half hours to close in her first match since she subdued Elena Rybakina in a third-set tiebreaker to claim her 20th career title in Dubai on February 22nd.




It wasn’t always easy—Halep committed eight double faults and squandered a triple-match point chance up 5-4 in the decider—but the Wimbledon champion stayed positive and found the finish line in a physical test.

“It’s always tough to play against her,” said Halep, who beat Hercog for the third time in four meetings with all four matches going the three-set distance. “She’s a very good opponent. Her game is bothering me—the spin. So it’s not easy to play against her.

“First set, I played really well. I had the rhythm. I was very sure on what I had to do. But then she came back strongly. She hit some drop shots and she had the rhythm. But I’m happy I fought till the end and I can win this match. It’s important.”

The world No. 2 breezed through the final four games of the first set to snatch a one-set lead after just 34 minutes of play.




Confounding the Romanian with her heavy kick serve to set up topspin strikes, the world No. 46 fought back with six straight games to dish out her own breadstick in the second set.

Halep broke first in the decider for a 3-1 lead only to see Hercog break right back in the fifth game.

Down 3-4, Hercog sprayed a forehand to face a second break point. Exhaling deeply, Hercog was pushed behind the baseline by the depth of Halep’s drives. Countering off the back foot, Hercog missed a forehand as Halep broke for 5-3.

Closure was complicated for Halep.

Driving her forehand with more authority, Hercog broke back in the ninth game and served to try to level the final set.

Flashing a forehand return down the middle, Halep earned triple match point.

Hercog slid her first ace of the day down the middle then exploited two loose return errors erasing all three match points. Halep put a soft backhand into the middle of the net handing her opponent game point.

Sprinting forward, the Romanian spun a two-handed pass down the line to save it. An angled drop shot capped a gritty hold as Hercog leveled, 5-all, 57 minutes into the decider.

Serving to force the tie break, Hercog dug in with another spirited stand.

On her fourth match point, Halep sailed a return beyond the baseline then sent a forehand long on match point number five.

Halep hammered flying forehand crosscourt for a sixth match point. Sliding slice backhands crosscourt, Hercog fended off the sixth match point.

Down 1-2 in the tie breaker, Halep elevated her game to another level. A clever forehand drop shot set up a volley winner from the baseline as Halep evened the score. Halep raced forward to knock a backhand pass down the line for 3-2 and a flagging Hercog followed with successive errors.




The top seed closed stinging a backhand down the line. 

Two-time Grand Slam champion Halep will face hard-hitting Czech Barbora Krejcikova in round two.

"I know that she’s very good because she’s playing flat and hard so I have to be ready," Halep said. "I have to adjust a little bit my game because today I finished not very good.

"But I’m happy to be in the second round. I’m looking forward to it."

World No. 70 Arantx Rus stopped sixth-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 6-2 denying nine of 11 break points. Rus will play 22-year-old Magdalena Frech in round two.


 

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