CINCINNATI, OH, USA - World No.1 Simona Halep is into her second final in as many weeks after taking down Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets at the Western & Southern Open.
After lifting the Coupe Rogers trophy last week in Montreal, Halep will compete in another championship match - her sixth final of the year - as she faces Kiki Bertens tomorrow for the Cincinnati title.
She was pitted against the on-fire Belarusian Sabalenka - who took down three Top 20 players on her way to the semifinals. But Sabalenka’s three-set heroics left her flat-footed against the top seed; Sabalenka came into the match with over eight hours of tennis under her belt this week, while Halep had played less than five.
As a result the 20-year-old struggled to keep pace with Halep, and the Romanian sealed her 450th career win in emphatic style, needing an hour and 15 minutes to notch the 6-3, 6-4 victory.
“It was a big challenge for me to have an opponent that is so young and winning so good matches and tough matches before with confidence very high,” Halep said in press. “It was a big challenge. And today when I stepped on the court, I said that I have just to relax and to play my game, which I did.
“I did actually exactly how I felt on court I could do that. That's why maybe I was able to win. And also mentally I was strong.”
Sabalenka wasn’t broken at all in her match against Keys, but she fell behind early as the World No.1 opened with a break at 2-1. She employed her aggressive game to earn the break straight back, but her efforts were undone in the next game as Halep broke through once again, at 3-2.
Halep stayed steady against Sabalenka’s firepower and returned every ball with interest, breaking once more to seal the opening set.
She got ahead early once more in the second set, but Sabalenka leveled straight back at 3-2 to keep them on serve. Halep had to fight off three break points as Sabalenka found a second gear at 4-4, but she held firm to put herself within one game of the final.
The Romanian kept Sabalenka under pressure in every point, and a handful of errors off Sabalenka’s racquet gave Halep her first match point. An ace bailed Sabalenka out of trouble, but it wasn’t enough to stem Halep’s momentum, and she sealed the match on the second time of asking.
Afterwards, 20-year-old Sabalenka looked to find positives from the match - and highlighted her incredible week of tennis in Cincinnati.
“I know I was too nervous in the match,” Sabalenka admitted. “Next time I just want to try to be more calm on the court. I was trying to go for my shots and everything was coming back. I was, like, ‘Why she take everything?’ I was trying to go more harder and harder.
“I won a lot of good players, and I show great tennis. It's bad that not today, but I'm going to try to keep my level and actually to keep trying to be much better on the court. And, well, it was a fantastic week for me.”
Halep, who made the final here in 2015 and 2017, will take on Bertens in tomorrow’s championship match as she seeks to add the Cincinnati trophy - what would be her 19th career title - to her impressive haul. Halep leads Bertens 3-1 in the pair’s head-to-head record, with their last match coming last year at Rome.
“We played many times, as I remember,” Halep said. “I know she hits flat. She hits very low balls. She's serving well. So I will try just to keep the attention on myself and to do my game.
“I will move well, I hope, and I will be strong on the legs. I think this is the main reason, every match, the main thing.”