World No. 2 Simona Halep held off a pair of late surges from fellow former No. 1 Garbine Muguruza on Sunday afternoon to reach the final of the Premier 5 event in Rome for the third time in her career.
A rock solid Halep looked to be cruising early on against a somewhat erratic Muguruza, building a 6-3, 4-2 lead, but the Spaniard won four games in a row to level it at a set apiece. And after Halep once again surged ahead in the third set, 5-1, Muguruza came alive again, bringing it back to 5-4.
But the Spaniard fell behind 15-30 while serving to stay in the match at 4-5, and back-to-back double faults on the next two points—her seventh and eighth of the day—gave Halep a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win.
“The victory is really important against Muguruza, always,” Halep said. “She’s a very, very difficult player, and a very good player. It’s always a good vibe and a good feeling when I win against her. I feel confident now that I was able to win this match—I know that I had many chances to finish it a little bit faster and a little bit easier, but as we saw, she doesn’t give up. Credit to her, she fought until the end.
“She’s a great player, a Grand Slam champion, and in my opinion she’s one of the best players in the world, even when she’s out of the Top 10, like now. It doesn’t matter. It’s always tough playing her.”
Both players finished with an almost even differential of winners to unforced errors: Halep 21 to 22, Muguruza 35 to 37. Halep won just three more points than Muguruza in the match, 97 to 94.
With Saturday’s win, Halep extended her winning streak to 13 matches in a row, having gone 4-0 to win Dubai in February, 5-0 to win Prague in August and 4-0 so far in Rome this week. Her last loss on the tour came in the semifinals of the Australian Open in January to her opponent today, Muguruza.
The Romanian will be looking for her first title in the Italian capital, having finished runner-up to Elina Svitolina in both of her previous finals: 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the 2017 final and 6-0, 6-4 in the 2018 final.
In the 2020 final on Monday, the No. 1-seeded Halep will face the No. 2 seed, Karolina Pliskova, who outdid No. 12 seed Marketa Vondrousova in straight sets in the second semifinal, 6-2, 6-4.
Pliskova, who captured the equal-biggest title of her career at Rome last year, has now won nine matches in a row at the Premier 5 tournament—five to win the title in 2019 and four so far in 2020.
“Here with every round I feel better,” Pliskova said. “I’ve had tough opponents, but every match I’ve felt my level has gotten a little bit higher. And the girls are tough on clay—it’s never been my favorite surface, but now I know I can play some great tennis on it, and win tournaments on clay, too.”
Halep leads Pliskova in their head-to-head, 7-4, but they're 1-1 on clay, with Halep winning in the 2017 French Open semifinals, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, and Pliskova winning in the 2018 Madrid quarterfinals, 6-4, 6-3.
"It'll be super tough because she's always fighting, and she's playing well—she won in Prague, and now she's in the final here," Pliskova said. "It's never easy with Simona, no matter what tournament it is."