PRAGUE, Czech Republic - Top seed Simona Halep secured her second berth in a final this season with a 7-6(2), 6-3 victory over compatriot Irina-Camelia Begu in the semifinals of the Prague Open.
The World No.2, a winner at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in February in her last event played before the tour's hiatus, will look to extend her winning streak to nine matches across the past six months against No.3 seed Elise Mertens, who edged former finalist Kristyna Pliskova in the day's first semifinal.
World No.82 Begu, a former Top 30 player, gave an incredible accounting of herself over the course of the week, having spent over seven hours on court in her first three matches, but eventually succumbed to all the tennis behind her after failing to serve out the first set.
"I didn't play my best tennis but also she was tired, so in my opinion, it was a good match," Halep said in her on-court interview. "I'm really happy that I could win it. It's always tough to play against her. She's a great player."
That not only included the second-longest match of 2020, a three-hour, 28-minute encounter against Swiss Leonie Kung in the second round, but a three-set victory over Sara Sorribes Tormo that she finished earlier in the day on Saturday after rain halted their match overnight.
In photos: Longest WTA matches of 2020 so far
The lower-ranked Romanian was a break ahead three times in the opening set, and twice earned herself the opportunity to win just her second set in seven professional meetings against Halep on serve at 5-4 and 6-5. Begu never earned a set point opportunity in either game, and prior to the 6-5 game, received a medical timeout to deal with blisters on her racquet hand - a tangible reminder of her efforts for the week.
"She was playing really well at that point and she was kind of dominating the match," Halep assessed. "Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad to play long matches because sometimes you get the rhythm, and sometimes you get tired."
Later, in her virtual press conference with journalists, Halep expounded on the key nature of the 6-5 game: "I was strong enough to come back in the first set, and... when she got the medical timeout, it was good for me to just calm down. I knew that she was tired. She played so many hours, so many sets these two days, and I knew that if I stayed stronger, I had a better chance to come back and to win.
Ultimately, Begu was unable to reach set point in either game, and lost the final six points of the tiebreak. Halep's momentum carried into the early portion of the second set as she broke serve in the opening game, but she needed to overcome Begu's last stand in the middle of the set.
The 29-year-old won back-to-back games from 3-1 down to level at 3-3, but after failing to covert a game point for a 4-3 lead, lost 11 of the last 12 points to succumb to defeat.
"She was probably a little bit more tired than me in the second set, but I've also had some tough matches at the beginning," Halep said. "I'm happy for her also that she did semifinals. In the first tournament [back], for me to play the final, it's a nice feeling."
Halep owns a 3-1 head-to-head edge against Mertens, including a 2-0 mark on clay where she lost just six games in four combined sets.
However, Mertens' lone win in the match-up came in a final, where she rallied from a set down to capture the biggest title of her career to date at the 2019 Qatar Total Open in Doha.
"The final is always difficult. It doesn't matter what we did before," Halep said. "I'm going to give my best because I really want to win it, but it's never easy. I'll just try to recover until tomorrow and enjoy that I'm going to play another final.
"I'm confident that I can play good tennis against her, but she's a very tough opponent as well. I'm just trying to fight, to keep fighting until the end and to never give up."