This time last year, Halep was ranked outside the Top 50 and needed a wildcard from tournament owner and fellow Romanian Ion Tiriac just to make the main draw. Since then, a meteoric rise has seen Halep establish herself amongst the game's best and also amongst the favorites for this year's title.
For Arruabarrena, 2013 was not nearly so fruitful, a bout of glandular fever laying her low and causing her to drop out of the Top 100. Now, with a clean bill of health, the shoots of recovery have begun to sprout, with the Spaniard racking up plenty of wins on the clay lately, in Bogotá and Marrakech.
The Turning Point
With Tiriac watching on from the stands, Halep was quickly into her stride, winning the opening 10 points as she raced into a 3-0 lead. After belatedly getting on the scoreboard, Arruabarrena began to settle into the task at hand, pushing Halep back and, much to the delight of the home crowd, was soon back on level terms.
However, she was not able to build on this momentum, a loose game at 4-4 handing over another break and with it the set. She faltered once more at the start of the second, double faulting to gift Halep the early advantage. This mistake proved costly and, despite a spirited rearguard effort, she was unable to threaten the Halep serve.
By The Numbers
Both players had their moments in a topsy turvy match, but, aside from a brief first set wobble, it was Halep's serve that proved the difference. In the second set, in particular, Arruabarrena struggled to make much of an impression with her return amidst a barrage of aces, including four in one game.
"She's a good player on clay because she has that Spanish style, hitting the forehand with a lot of topspin," Halep said. "She played well in the first set and when I was 4-3 down my serve really helped me. I just wanted to stay focused for every point and to fight for every point. So I did really well in the end, and I'm really happy that I won.
"The tournament means a lot to me because Mr. Tiriac was always helping me in the past with wildcards. Last year I had tough match with Domínguez Lino. We played for about three hours and 30 minutes and I lost 6-4 in the third. From that point, I started to play really well. In Rome everything clicked, and I started to compete with the top players."