Dubai: Former champion and one of Dubai’s favourites Simona Halep systematically dismantled fast-improving youngster Elena Rybakina 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 in an exciting final to win her second singles crown at the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open, on Saturday.
Shaikh Hasher Al Maktoum, President of Tennis Emirates was joined at the presentation of trophies by Micky Lawler, President, WTA Tour, Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice President and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, Ramesh Cidambi, COO of Dubai Duty Free and Tournament Director Salah Tahlak, among others.
Halep received the winner’s cheque of $696,860 (Dhs 2.55 million) and 470 ranking points, while debutant Rybakina took home $372,200 and 305 points for her efforts this week.
Winner of the title here in 2015, Halep was initially troubled by her gutsy 20-year-old opponent from Kazakhstan. But once the Romanian came to terms with Rybakina’s vast variety on court, she made her experience speak, slowly and surely dismantling the player on the other side to win her 20th career title on the WTA Tour.
“I really wanted to win this title as I owe it to this place,” Halep told a near-full stadium, on Saturday.
“I fought hard, and in the final part of the third set even though things got really tough I just hung in there and gave my best. I have great memories here and this will be another one,” the 28-year-old Romanian added.
Rybakina has been in dazzling form having reached the finals of four of the five tournaments entered so far this season. This year, the 20-year-old Moscow-born Kazakh girl has been on a truly satisfying run. Last Sunday, she ended with the runners-up trophy in St Petersburg to secure a career-high ranking of No.19.
Halep, on the other hand, has been ranked inside the top-10 for 317 consecutive weeks – the tenth longest streak in WTA history.
The final was in two parts. In the first, Rybakina did enough to get the all-important break in the sixth game to go 4-2 in the clear, after which - despite a double fault for deuce on her own serve - she scampered through with the opening set 6-3 in 37 minutes.
It was the second part that saw the real world number two Halep show up. Egged on by a majority following at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Halep broke in the fourth and then held to distance herself 4-1. But the Kazakh had other ideas as she broke back in the seventh only to run into an opponent who kept on displaying variety and finesse in her strokes to register a second break and then serve out the set 6-3.
In the third, the crafty Romanian was let down by her serve and a couple of rare double faults allowed her to be broken in the fourth. But Halep broke back immediately and held for 3-3. With both players displaying an array of shots all over the court, Halep went clear at 6-5 only to be broken back by her opponent to force a deciding tie-breaker.
The tie-break went to the wire with neither giving anything away till Rybakina sent a forehand wide to the left of Halep and the Romanian collapsed on her back and covered her face in disbelief.
Halep’s 20th title took her level with Victoria Azarenka in sixth place on the list of active title winners (behind Serena and Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova). The Romanian will continue as world No.2 behind Ashleigh Barty when the new rankings are released on Monday.