ROME, Italy - World No.1 Simona Halep needed to come back from a set down against Maria Sharapova, but she’s through to her second straight final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
Sharapova came into the match having spent almost four and a half times longer than Halep on court; as a result of a bye and a walkover, Halep has played two hours and 13 minutes across two straight-sets matches, while three of Sharapova’s four matches in Rome have been lengthy three-set battles, adding up to nine hours and 48 minutes played.
The fatigue showed as the match wore on, and Halep prevailed 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 after a grueling two and a half hours.
WTA Insider Live Blog: No.1 Halep takes on former champ Sharapova in Rome
“I was happy to be able to play so well, and in the end win the match,” Halep told press afterwards. “It’s always tough to play against her so I was really happy, and I celebrated how I felt. I tried to be aggressive the whole match, and I did it even if sometimes it went too far.
“I think I played my best match on clay, and I’m really happy that even though she played her best, I won the match.”
Three-time Rome champion Sharapova, whose ranking will move from No.40 to No.29 with her semifinal run, started out the match struggling on serve against the fresher Halep. She managed just three points in her first three service games as double faults seemed to plague her, but her dogged returning kept Halep from running away with it.
Even still, Sharapova grabbed the first hold of the match at 4-3 after seven straight breaks of serve, a move that proved to be crucial as it gave her the edge - and the set - in the three more consecutive breaks that followed.
Halep continued the trend of breaks into the second set before notching her first hold of the match at 2-0. Sharapova held onto her serve once, and had points to level for 2-2, but Halep held firm to deny her the break. Instead, she reeled off three games in a row to close out the set and tie the score at a set apiece.
Third set unfolded much like the first, starting off with six breaks of serve and one hold - this time from Halep at 2-1. Sharapova notched her third hold of the match to level things at 4-4, but Halep took advantage of the Russian’s flagging energy to reel off two games in a row - closing out the match after two hours and 23 minutes.
“I felt like I was hitting the ball well in the first set, but I didn’t serve well throughout the match,” Sharapova assessed afterwards. “I just didn’t have enough velocity and pace on that shot, and I lost the accuracy on the return in the last few sets.
“It’s obvious that the amount of hours that we played [before the match] is quite different, but when you go on court that doesn’t really matter. That’s all thrown away, and you still have to play the match. I think I battled well.
“It’s always going to be a physical match against Simona, but despite everything I was there physically. There’s a lot of good things I can take away from a week like this.”
The win puts Halep back into the Rome final for the second year in a row, where she’ll once again face No.4 seed Elina Svitolina in a rematch of last year’s final.
“It’s nice that we are again in the final, both of us,” Halep said. “It’s going to be a nice match, but I hope I don’t get injured again. I started well last year, so the game is there, I know how to play. But still, she’s a very tough opponent and a great player. I have to be focused on myself and play my best.”
She’ll go into the final with the WTA World No.1 ranking already guaranteed - as a result of advancing to the semifinals, along with a loss by Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals, Halep will retain the top spot.