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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, February 22, 2020

Simona Halep

Top-seeded Simona Halep fought off Elena Rybakina 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(5) in an electric Dubai final to capture her 20th career championship.

Photo credit: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship Facebook

The power of perception can be a game-changer.

Down a break in the decisive set of the Dubai final to the WTA’s hottest player, Simona Halep showed 2020 vision—and unwavering will—in Dubai.

More: Knee Surgery Knocks Federer Out 

A gritty Halep repelled red-hot Elena Rybakina 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(5) in an electrifying final to capture her 20th career championship at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

"Well crazy emotions to be honest," Halep told Annabel Croft afterward. "It’s been a great match. So I really want to congratulate my opponent, Elena, she played really really well.

"And she’s so young so she has many years to play at the highest level. Good luck and well done for this beautiful tournament that you played."

When Rybakina's final shot sailed ending a pulsating two hour, 27-minute classic, Halep fell flat on her back leaving a silhouette of sweat on the court.

Rising from competitive death by saving a match point in her 1-6, 6-2, 7-6(7) triumph over Ons Jabeur in her opener, Halped started and ended this tournament battling through third-set breakers to capture her first title since she won Wimbledon last July.

In truth, this final was so tight both deserved to raise the title trophy.

Contesting her second straight final in a six-day span, Rybakina rapped 30 winners—two more than the top seed—while Halep made two fewer errors.

"Actually I was checking the board to see how [fast Rybakina's serve] is going so fast sometimes," Halep said.  "I really couldn’t touch the ball, so it was really tough to return.

"But I fought hard. I really wanted this tournament because I love playing here. And I gave everything I had. Now actually I’m pretty dead."

It is Halep’s second Dubai crown coming five years after she defeated Karolina Pliskova to win her maiden title in the desert.

The world No. 2 ties Victoria Azarenka for sixth place on the WTA list of active title leaders.

Though she fell in her fourth final of the year, Rybakina will rise to a career-high rank of No. 17 continuing her rocket-ride up the rankings 13 months after she launched the 2019 season ranked No. 186.

WTA win leader Rybakina came out ripping the ball. The world No. 19 did damage with her forehand earning the first break for 4-2. Rybakina backed up the break at 15.

Showing few signs of stress, Rybakina fended off a pair of break points serving out the opening set, 6-3.

Mixing sharper angles with her trademark two-hander down the line, Halep hammered out 13 winners compared to eight for the St. Petersburg finalist snatching a gritty 44-minute second set to force a decider.

Tennis Express

Would the physicality of Rybakina’s run to successive finals in two different environments take a toll in the decider?

The super-fit Halep posed that question dropping a bit deeper behind the baseline and giving some of her shots more air in extending exchanges.

Pouncing from a predatory crouch, Rybakina cracked a crosscourt forehand return handcuffing Halep for break point in the fourth game. A skittish Halep spun a double fault beyond the service line handing Rybakina the break and a 3-1 lead.

One hour, 44-minutes into a quality match it was Rybakina’s turn to tighten up. She double faulted to go down double break point. Halep broke back.

The former world No. 1 flashed a forehand down the line forging a 4-all deadlock.

Elevating her level, Rybakina reached for an exceptional drop volley winner closing a tough hold for 5-4.

Racing to her right, Halep flicked a full-stretch forehand pass down the line to rouse Romanian fans into chanting her name and ratchet up the stress on Rybakina.

The powerful baseliner from Kazakhstan narrowly missed the mark with a leaping crosscourt forehand for break point then sailed another shot as Halep broke for 6-5.

Serving for her second Dubai title, Halep relied on her legs to stretch a rally and coax a netted forehand denying break point. Rybakina raked a forehand return down the line for a second break point.

Rapping another forehand return down the line, Rybakina broke back sending the final into the tie breaker and fans into delirium.

Drama erupted with the tie breaker deadlocked at 4-all when Rybakina successfully challenged a Halep drive for 5-4. 

Attacking a Halep second serve, Rybakina unloaded on her forehand return but misfired wide then dragged a backhand crosscourt wide as the Romanian seized championship point.

Romanian fans were chanting "Simona! Simona! and Halep answered the call winning the final 13-shot rally and falling flat on her back in elation.  


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