No.2 seed Simona Halep captured the 23rd WTA singles title of her career, and first in Australia, at the Melbourne Summer Set 1 with a 6-2, 6-3 defeat of No.3 seed Veronika Kudermetova in the final.
In 2021, calf and knee injuries significantly disrupted Halep's season. The Romanian competed in 13 tournaments, and finished only nine of them. Consequently, her streak of winning at least one title every year since 2013 was ended, and she also dipped out of the Top 20 for the first time since 2013. Prior to this week, Halep last lifted a trophy at Rome 2020.
However, last year Halep claimed her first two wins over Kudermetova, beating the Russian in straight sets in the Australian Open third round and the Moscow second round. She made that three out of three in Melbourne, coming from an early break down in both sets to triumph in 1 hour and 14 minutes.
Halep improves to 23-18 in WTA finals overall; while Kudermetova, who won her maiden title in Charleston last April, falls to 1-2.
🇷🇴 SI-MO-NA 🇷🇴— wta (@WTA) January 9, 2022
It's a 23rd career title for @simona_halep! 🏆 pic.twitter.com/rsCtFmK6Xe
Match management: Halep started slowly in both sets; the former World No.1 double faulted to go down 2-1 in the first, and again to pave the way to a loss of serve in the first game of the second.
But Kudermetova was unable to take advantage either time. The World No.31 committed 27 unforced errors over the course of the match, three of which immediately handed the first-set break back. Halep needed no further encouragement to settle, and did not permit Kudermetova to even reach game point for the remainder of the set.
Kudermetova held three break points to take a 3-0 double-break lead in the second set, but Halep saved the first two with service winners. A backhand wide wasted the third for Kudermetova, who then netted an easy putaway to allow Halep to hold.
Once again, it was the two-time Grand Slam champion who was able to seize momentum. Halep rattled off five of the last six games, and converted her first championship point as Kudermetova sent another backhand wide.
In Halep's words: "The body is great, I feel good," she said afterwards. "I had a tough five matches, and my body is good. I don't feel that tired. Physically I'm in the right place. Confidence is growing. I feel confident. I feel that I have the game to win matches.
"I'm not that scared when I lose serve because I lose often the serve, but I am confident in my return. I'm not getting scared there. I didn't even think that I lost the serve, I just focused on the return. I just focused on every game I played. I was very positive."
More doubles champions crowned in Melbourne 💪— wta (@WTA) January 9, 2022
The No.2 seeds of the Melbourne Summer Set 1 @asiamuhammad and @JLPegula secure the title with a 6-3, 6-1 victory! pic.twitter.com/YmqPTYU7cJ
Muhammad, Pegula win first doubles title together
No.2 seeds Asia Muhammad and Jessica Pegula captured their first doubles title as a team after defeating the unseeded Sara Errani and Jasmine Paolini 6-3, 6-1 in the final.
Muhammad and Pegula played one ITF tournament together in 2012, but have been a semi-regular partnership only since reaching the 2020 Roland Garros quarterfinals. The Americans dropped only one set in Melbourne, in their 6-3, 6-7(2), [10-6] semifinal defeat of No.3 seeds Viktoria Kuzmova and Ver Zvonareva.
The title is Muhammad's seventh at WTA level with six different partners and preserves the 30-year-old's unbeaten record in WTA finals. By contrast, Pegula had not previously reached a doubles final above WTA 125 level before this week.
"We got some really tough matches, which is always great prep heading into a Slam," Muhammad said afterward.
Said Pegula: "I feel like last year we struggled finding momentum and rhythm. But it's been nice that everything's been here this week and we could practise, play and compete."
Italian duo Errani and Paolini were teaming up for the first time in a WTA tournament, having previously played together only in Billie Jean King Cup competition and at the Tokyo Olympic Games, where they reached the second round.