MADRID, Spain – No.3 seed Simona Halep successfully completed her Mutua Madrid Open title defense after grinding through in three-set battle against a determined Kristina Mladenovic.
Despite being visibly hampered by a lower back injury, Mladenovic bravely pushed Halep the distance but didn’t have enough in the tank for the final set, falling 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-2.
“I feel great that I could defend this title,” Halep said in her post-match press conference. “It means a lot because it's very big and gives me confidence for the bigger tournaments.
“I feel that actually I have the game to win big tournaments. I have just to be consistent mentally. I started pretty bad this year. Now I’m back with the confidence.”
Already the first woman in tournament history to reach three finals, Halep is just the second player to win back-to-back Madrid after Serena Williams did so in 2012-2013.
With the victory Halep not only extends her clay court winning record to 22 victories in 25 matches, but she also vaults into the No.8 spot on the Porsche Race to Singapore.
A marathon eight-minute opening game set the tone for the match; Halep punished a Mladenovic dropshot that sat up invitingly, but two double faults of her own proved costly as the Frenchwoman opened with break. Halep got it back a few games later to level things at 2-2; Mladenovic’s first serves abandoned her and despite Halep’s unforced errors the Romanian was able to crawl out of a 0-40 deficit.
The pressure mounted again as Mladenovic raced ahead to another break, Halep falling behind 5-3. But the No.3 seed changed up her tactics, honing in on the crumbling Mladenovic backhand and playing more aggressive to reel off four games in a row – dodging a break point – and avoiding the tiebreak to wrap up the opening set.
Despite her hampered movement and visibly wincing after every few points, Mladenovic refused to fade away and kept Halep under pressure. The pair traded breaks early in the set and then stayed deadlocked on serve – both players feeling each other out but neither giving up a break opportunity.
Halep and Mladenovic marched on to a tiebreak, where the Frenchwoman put together a monumental effort to send the match the distance.
A flawless dropshot gave Mladenovic a 3-0 lead, but Halep kept Mladenovic moving line to line to get the minibreaks back and keep herself within touching distance. Another brave dropshot – this time on the run- gave Mladenovic set point and she showed every ounce of her mental toughness to fire a forehand crosscourt just behind Halep and force a third set.
But in the decider it was all Halep as the Romanian shook off the disappointing second set – she was two points away from victory twice – and recovered admirably by putting renewed pressure on the Mladenovic serve. The Frenchwoman ran out of steam as Halep broke her twice to defend her Mutua Madrid Open crown.
“I'm very proud that after I lost the tiebreak, which before I had trouble losing the second set in the tiebreak, I came back stronger on court in the third set,” Halep said. “I kept the rhythm very high, the level.
“I just tried to stay positive and just playing till the end of the match, till the last point. I did it well.”
Despite her injury, Mladenovic took nothing away from Halep’s performance.
“I had some tensions, some pain here and there,” she said in press. “I was trying not to show anything, not to think about it. I tried to fight over it, continue to enjoy and fight till the end, give everything I had.
“Honestly, we had an amazing final, and I don't want to put any comments on my lower back saying that was the reason why I couldn't make it till the end and win that match.”