We just watched Stanislas Wawrinka, who became a major force in 2013, earn his breakthrough win in 2014.
We can now say the same for Simona Halep, who won six tournaments in 2013, including the season-ending WTA Tournament of Champions. But none of those titles compare to the one she won today in Doha, an event that featured 16 of the world’s Top 20 and whose roll of champions is even more impressive. It includes Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin, Monica Seles, and Martina Hingis—and now Halep, after her 6-2, 6-3 win over Angelique Kerber.
The win also sends the Romanian to No. 9 in the rankings, but she may not occupy that rung for very long:
Halep now less than 800 points from Sharapova at #5, with 173 to defend until Rome. Sharapova has 2870 (4495 up to RG). Do the math(s)...— Tumaini (@tumcarayol) February 16, 2014
It sounds obvious, but you need to save your best for last to win titles. Halep proved this today and throughout the week in Qatar: After escaping her opener against Kaia Kanepi in a third-set tiebreaker, she picked up steam, trouncing Annika Beck and Sara Errani (the latter, 6-2, 6-0) before scoring another straight-sets win over world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska (7-5, 6-2). Kerber, for the moment ranked ahead of Halep, was the last formidable foe to fall, and like today’s Rotterdam final, we got a sense of the outcome from the outset.
Kerber, who reached the final with a straight-sets win over Jelena Jankovic, was broken immediately and quickly fell behind 1-5. You might think that the remaining two games in that set would be inconsequential—and you may be right to a point, as Halep closed it out two games later. But the way in which Halep served out the set, and Kerber’s inability to make her opponent think twice, persisted through the remainder of this contest.
Kerber earned three break point chances down a double-break at 2-5—not an insurmountable lead, as we saw recently. But she failed to convert any of them, with one miss in particular sticking out: With a sitter put-away at net, Kerber indadvertedly touched the tape with her toe, giving the point to Halep. It may not have mattered: From a precarious position, Halep nonetheless lobbed Kerber as the point was called. It was that kind of day for the German.
The second set was an improvement for Kerber but a test for both women. But again Kerber fell behind, 2-3, after a clumsy drop shot sat up for so long that you could read the number on the ball. Halep didn’t much care and terminated the point with a winner.
Halep would have a hell of a time making her break-of-serve lead stand. Kerber’s flat strikes and aggressive returns became too much for Halep’s resourceful scrambling at times, but never enough to swing the match’s plot. Halep was also helped by the net, the ultimate defender, which stopped many of Kerber’s shots cold. Her final three holds were tough but justified, as Kerber simply didn’t offer enough consistent resistance.
When the net caught the ball for the last time—on a Kerber double-fault—Halep earned her first title of 2014. Her record this year is actually quite spotty, with two first-round losses alongside a quarterfinal run in Melbourne and a major move in Doha. I’ll be interested to see what she does next, and won’t have to wait long to find out: She continues her desert swing in a few days’ time in Dubai.