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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, August 16, 2020

 
Simona Halep

Top-seeded Simona Halep broke serve six times stopping Elise Mertens 6-2, 7-5 to seize the Prague title for her ninth straight win.

Photo credit: TK SPARTA PRAHA / Pavel Lebeda (sport-pics.cz)

Neither the Coronavirus-induced sabbatical from the sport nor a dangerous nemesis could stop a streaking Simona Halep from wrapping another title run.

The top-seeded Halep broke serve six times defeating Elise Mertens 6-2, 7-5 in the Prague Open final to seize her 21st career championship.

More: US Open Preview Magazine

The Romanian raised her record to 15-2 on the season capturing her second straight title following her run to the Dubai championship in February.

It is Halep's ninth straight win and her eighth career clay-court crown, third most among active players behind only Serena Williams (13 clay championships) and Venus Williams (nine clay crowns).




"Even the first set was not easy. She’s a great opponent and it’s always tough to play against her," Halep said in her on-court interview. "Because she’s fast. She takes the ball very quick. But I just fought to the end.

"Second set was a little bit tougher. But mentally I was strong and that’s why I could win this match."

The third-seeded Mertens, who beat Halep in their lone prior final at the 2019 Doha on hard courts, drew first blood breaking for a 2-0 lead.

Tuning up her game, Halep immediately responded rolling through seven straight gmes to snatch the opening set and go up a break in the second.

Ultimately, everything the 23rd-ranked Belgian did on this day, Halep did a bit better. 

The two-time Grand Slam champion was a bit quicker to the ball, frequently played sharper angles, drove the ball with depth and broke serve six times in Mertens' 10 service games.

"I love being in Prague," said Halep, whose 21st title gives her sole possession of fifth place among active WTA players. "I had maybe one of the best weeks even if my tennis was not the highest level. I enjoyed it and I’m happy to be on court after the big break.

"The tournament director did a great job, all the sponsors, the conditions were great. Maybe next year I will be back."

Halep's signature shot, the two-handed backhand, was did damage at crucial times today.




Halep drew an errant backhand scoring her fourth consecutive break to snatch her seventh straight game to start the second set.

Outclassed for the majority of the opening set, Mertens applied her two-hander to break back and level two games into the second set.

Stopping her slide sparked Mertens who hit her backhand down the line navigating a tricky hold for 2-1. It was the Belgian’s second hold of the day as she took her second lead of the match.

The Belgian double-faulted away the fifth break as Halep walked to her court-side seat with a 3-2 lead three games from taking the title.

The backhand down the line is a kill shot for both woman and Mertens drove that shot with ambition breaking back to forge a 4-4 tie.

Staring down a break point in the ensuing game, Mertens held her nerve and serve holding strong.

Still, Halep kept hammering away. Stretching her opponent behind he baseline, the top seed coaxed a netted forehand converting her third break point for a 6-5 lead.

The 28-year-old Halep closed in one hour, 33 minutes, defeating Mertens for the fourth time in five meetings.

On a day in which she seemed to have all the answers, Halep left the court with one major question looming: Will she play this month's US Open?

Five of the world's Top 10 women have already withdrawn from New York. There is growing speculation Halep, who has been training primarily on red clay, will join the exodus and focus on the European clay season.

Asked directly if she will play the US Open where she would be top seed with world No. 1 Ash Barty's withdrawal, the reigning Wimbledon champion said she will make her decision tomorrow. 

"Monday I will have it," Halep said of the Open. "Now it’s too fast to take a decision. I just want to enjoy this victory and then I will have a thought about US Open."

 

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