Madrid holds a special place in the Romanian's career: it was here in 2013 that she received a wildcard that kick started her ascent into the WTA's elite. In 2014 Halep returned as a finalist, and this year she led a strong Romanian contingent that made tournament history before she captured her second career Premier Mandatory title.
"I saw always that it's a special tournament because of Mr. [Ion] Tiriac, because of many Romanians that are coming here. I feel like home," Halep said.
"You know, it's a special feeling that many Romanians are coming to support me.I see many flags in the crowd. It means a lot."
Despite coming into the tournament surrounded by questions about her health and fitness, Halep's performance in Madrid was nothing short of dominating. She dropped just one set all tournament long, and in the last round she overpowered Sam Stosur 6-2, 6-0 to reach the final against Cibulkova.
Into her third final of the year, No.38-ranked Cibulkova is the lowest ranked player to reach a Premier Mandatory final since 2009, when the WTA Roadmap was introduced. In fact, even though she famously reached the Australian Open final in 2014, Madrid marks the Slovak's first ever appearance at a Premier Mandatory final.
Halep kept Cibulkova's fast-paced game contained throughout the match, breaking her in the very first game to start out with an early lead. Despite Cibulkova's trademark dogged resistance, Halep broke once more at 4-1. Halep weathered three of the Slovak's break opportunities and went on to close the set at 6-2.
The same pattern unfolded in the second set, with Halep again breaking in the first game. Though Cibulkova raised her level of aggression, she couldn't keep up with Halep and the Romanian's deadly forehand, which did the bulk of the damage: Halep hit 11 of her 20 total winners and conceded just two unforced errors out of 10 from that wing.
"I expected a tough match today," Halep said. "I thought that I would struggle a little bit with her shots, but I was very strong on my legs and could block. I could make my game, I can say."
With the win Halep will make her return to the WTA Top 5, at No.5, and both Cibulkova and Halep will enter the Road To Singapore Leaderboard's Top 8.
Cibulkova's appearance in the final bumps up her ranking to No.26, putting her in perfect position to receive a seed at the French Open.
"I just want to get some rest and prepare for Roland Garros," Cibulkova reflected after the match. "Because my game on clay really came together. I know what to do.
"I would play bit more aggressive from the beginning. But she was playing really well, so wasn't like I played bad feels and I have to feel bad."
? WTA (@WTA) May 7, 2016