The name of the game this time of year in pro tennis is to find the quality level that will help you thrive at the upcoming US Open. With that in mind, Simona Halep and Beatriz Haddad Maia both leave Toronto feeling hopeful.

In a physically grueling match that lasted two hours and 17 minutes, the 30-year-old Romanian beat Haddad Maia in the finals of the National Bank Open, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3. It was Halep’s third title at this event and the 24th Hologic WTA Tour tournament win of her career. More significantly, after a rare year ranked outside the Top 10, Halep now soars up the rankings from No. 15 to No. 6. Said Halep, “When I started the year I was not very confident and I set the goal to be, at the end of the year, Top 10. And here I am.”

It’s also been a great week for Haddad Maia. Her time in Toronto featured five notable wins—’22 Roland Garros semifinalist Martina Trevisan, ’21 US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic, and former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova. Ranked No. 183 in the world just over a year ago, Haddad Maia will now crack the Top 20.

“Very happy with what me and my team are making from the last months,” said Haddad Maia, who earlier this year won two grass-court tournaments. “I think we are improving a lot every single day. Not even on the matches, but, yeah, outside of the tour when we are practicing. We are taking care of my body. We are doing good things. So, yeah, I feel happy and I feel motivated to go to the next challenge.”

Five years younger than Halep and a winner over her the last time they’d played this past June, the left-handed Brazilian started off as if she was going to blow her elder off the court, taking the first three games. As she opened up rallies with a strong lefty serve and crackled one laser-like forehand and backhand after another into each corner of the court, Haddad Maia suggested the future of tennis, her power and accuracy akin to a new version of Petra Kvitova. “Yeah, at the start it was really tough,” said Halep. “And she's lefty, so it's coming different, the spin. She's very powerful. She's solid. And it's never easy to play against her.”

How best to describe Halep? Certainly, she is tenacious. But more than that, Halep is assertive, able to generate sustained power, depth and accuracy. Propelled by superb footwork, speed and concentration, Halep willed her way back into the match, daring Haddad Maia to maintain and even exceed her high level of play. Point after point and game after game went to Halep in the form of one forced error after another. “I couldn't control myself,” said Haddad Maia. “Simona start to play better, to improve… And then I was trying to find my way to try to be more aggressive.” The future was going to have to wait.

Serving at 3-5, Haddad Maia hoped to hold, regain at least a bit of momentum and make Halep—often a more effective receiver than server—serve out the set. But at 15-30, Haddad Maia double-faulted. At 15-40, Halep sharply shaped a crosscourt forehand that opened up the court tremendously. All Haddad Maia could do was roll a backhand down the middle, at which point Halep laced an untouchable crosscourt backhand.

The National Bank Open is now the first WTA event that Halep has won three times in her career.

The National Bank Open is now the first WTA event that Halep has won three times in her career.


Of course, this wouldn’t be a Simona Halep match without its share of twists and turns. Discouraged as Haddad Maia was to have seen her early first set lead vanish, she once again started strong. Halep was flat—with both energy and forehand, that drive beginning to fly long. Once Halep double-faulted at 0-2, 30-40, the cushion of a second break made it easy for Haddad Maia to maintain control and level the match.

So began the 187th three-set match of Halep’s Hall of Fame career (122-64). How now, at this stage of her career, versus an inspired younger opponent, would she respond? For Haddad-Maia, it was three-setter number 43, a full 19 of them taking place in this year of great ascent.

But just as Halep scarcely gained a bounce forward after winning the first set, such was also the case for Haddad Maia as the decider began. Serving at 0-1, the crisp and decisive shot-making Haddad Maia had shown in the second set gave way to the overhitting and puzzling tactical choices that had cost her the first.

Halep broke to go up 2-0, lost serve, then broke again. Through these key stages, Halep drew on her most reliable asset: movement—one dash after another that psychologically smothered Haddad Maia into repeatedly going for more. “It was a hard match, difficult match,” said Halep, “because she played really, really well. She's a very tough opponent. She fought very hard until the end. So I had to stay there. I had to run sometimes a lot.”

Promising as Haddad Maia is, at this point she is still raw and, at least in this match, was unable to broaden her line of attack with variations in pace, spin or court positioning. Said Haddad Maia, “But I was trying to play more aggressive, to do what my coach told me to do, because we know what was the goal. But I was not doing the right way.” At last, in a commanding lead, Halep served at 4-2 and held at love. At 5-3, she kicked off the game with a magnificent crosscourt passing shot, swiftly went up 40-love, and on her second championship point, extracted a forehand error.

Familiar as Halep is with winning titles of this level, surely this week’s run was exceptionally pleasing. Along the way she’d beaten two players who’d surpassed her in the rankings, Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula. This was also the first tournament Halep had won since she’d begun to work with Patrick Mouratoglou in April. “So it's very special moment,” said Halep on everything from taking the title to returning to the Top 10. “I will enjoy it. I will give myself credit. I'm just dreaming for more.”