Moscow: Halep d. Stosur

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Riding a nine-match winning streak into today’s Kremlin Cup final, Samantha Stosur won the coin toss and chose to serve. Simona Halep proceeded to smack declarative drives all over the court, dooming Stosur to defense for much of the match to continue her title roll.

The 22-year-old Halep defeated Stosur, 7-6 (1), 6-2 to capture her fifth title of the season without surrendering a set in the tournament. The former world junior No. 1, who started the season without a WTA title to her credit, has now matched Stosur in career championships and is second on the Tour to world No. 1 Serena Williams (10) for most titles this season.

Facing one of the game’s most formidable kick serves, a fearless Halep stepped up to the baseline and whipped returns with depth and angle in deconstructing the Stosur serve. Halep, who is third on the WTA in first-serve return points won, timed the ball beautifully in earning break points in eight of Stosur’s 10 service games while winning 30 of 40 points played on the Australian’s second serve.

Credit Stosur for fighting off 14 of the 18 break points she faced, but Halep wreaked so much havoc in baseline exchanges, Stosur’s stress level spiked in nearly every service game. Changing direction on her drives shrewdly, Halep was outside the doubles alley when she hit a sharp-angled backhand return crosscourt return to set up a running lob and break for 2-1. Successive forehand errors from Halep gave back the break for 3-all. A stubborn Stosur withstood four break points in a draining 10-minute seventh game to hold for 4-3, then denied four more break points in the ninth game, holding with a wicked spinning serve out wide for 5-4. 

Turning up the volume on her shots in the tiebreaker, Halep drilled a forehand winner down the line for the mini-break and a 3-1 lead. Unable to gain traction in baseline exchanges and repelled by passing shots when she attacked net, Stosur scattered  four consecutive errors, closing with a forehand return into the bottom of the net and a backhand that sailed beyond the baseline as Halep took the opening set with a clenched fist.

Though she stands just 5’6”, Halep is skilled hitting the ball on the rise, is well-balanced off both forehand and backhand and packs potent power from compact swings.

"Usually players of that height don't serve as well—she has so much power on her serve, that's actually really awesome," Serena has said of Halep.

Halep backed up her second serve better, winning 12 of 17 second-serve points, saved three of five break points she faced and never looked fazed by the 2011 U.S. Open champion, who had won three of their prior four meetings. Contesting her second final in a week, Osaka champion Stosur broke to open the second set only to see Halep break back. A slick forehand swing volley helped Halep hold for 2-1 and she followed with a searing forehand return to ignite a break for a 3-1 lead. She scored one final break to seal an impressive one hour, 41-minute victory. An all-surface player, Halep has won titles on clay, grass, hard court (beating former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the New Haven final) and now indoors and is projected to crack the Top 15 for the first time when the new WTA rankings are released on Monday.

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