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National Bank Open
Simona Halep fights past Jessica Pegula and will play for her third title in Canada
A messy stat sheet belies the dramatic battle that will return the Romanian to the WTA Top 10 for the first time since last August.
Published Aug 13, 2022
Simona Halep and Jessica Pegula had gone to war for two hours and 10 minutes in their semifinal in Toronto on Saturday. Each had won a set. Each had broken serve five times, and squandered many more break points. Each had committed a lot of errors—85 between the two of them—and looked out of the contest at various points. But each had found a way back in. Pegula had jumped out to an early lead by attacking with her flat ground strokes; Halep had worked her way back with jaw-dropping defense. In the final set, Halep went up 5-2, but Pegula saved two match points to make it 5-4. Now Halep would serve for it, for a second time, with no margin for error.
Halep won the first point with a good smash, a shot she hit brilliantly all afternoon. But she gave the second point away with a netted backhand. Finally, at 15-15, Halep found a way to separate herself from Pegula. The American seemed to have the point won when she drilled a powerful ground stroke into the Romanian’s backhand corner. Halep raced to retrieve it, stuck out her racquet, and sent up a towering lob that somehow landed on the opposite baseline. Pegula made an error soon after, and gestured in disbelief at Halep’s get. On the other side of the net, Halep bent into a deep fist-pump, her first sign of positive energy in a few games. She rode that energy through the next two points, and a well-earned, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 comeback win.
“It was an incredible match,” Halep said.
It was also a match that showed how statistics don’t always tell the whole, or even half of, the story. If you only looked at the numbers afterward, you would probably conclude that both women had been awful. Halep made 42 errors, hit just 11 winners, and double-faulted 10 times. Pegula’s stat line wasn’t much better: 21 winners and 43 errors. Between them, they failed to convert 20 break points.
But the numbers don’t do the drama justice. Both players had trouble hitting the ball past the other because neither is a full-on slugger, and because Halep in particular, can still run down just about anything, even at 30. The match itself belied the stats. It had long rallies that sent both players from corner to corner and baseline to net; a strong effort from a player (Pegula) who has been on the rise, and who was attempting to reach a Masters 1000 final; and a big comeback from a Grand Slam champion and future Hall of Famer who still cares about every match as much as she ever has.
“She was hitting super fast,” Halep said of Pegula’s first-set blitz. “I had to try to find the rhythm.”
The match itself belied the stats. It had long rallies that sent both players from corner to corner and baseline to net; a strong effort from a player who has been on the rise; and a big comeback from a Grand Slam champion.
Halep said she “changed tactics” after the first set, and tried to extend the rallies and make her opponent work harder. Aiding her efforts was the full-throated support of a crowd dotted with Romanian flags. They drove her to run harder with each set, an effort that culminated with her match-winning stab lob in the final game.
“They supported me like crazy today,” she said.
The win puts Halep into her second final with coach Patrick Mouratoglou. After a 2021 season that looked like it might, possibly, be her last, the newly married Halep has recommitted to the sport, and with this run to the Toronto final, returned to a familiar place: the Top 10.