Simona Halep successfully defended her Madrid Open title with a hard-fought victory over Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic at the Caja Magica on Saturday.
The Romanian No3 seed, who is the first player to feature in three finals in the Spanish capital, is just the second woman to claim the trophy in consecutive seasons (Serena Williams won it in 2012-13).
It is Halep’s first title triumph since her victory in Montreal last July and it has taken her back into the top four of the world rankings and from No29 to No8 in the Road to Singapore standings.
Mladenovic entered the contest with a 3-1 head-to-head record lead over Halep, and having reached the final in Stuttgart two weeks earlier.
The Frenchwoman, who will rise to No14 in the world when the new rankings are released on Monday, turns 24 today, and could not celebrate her birthday with a second trophy win of the season.
Mladenovic served for the opening set at 5-4 but Halep, who had pulled off a similar Houdini act against Roberta Vinci earlier in the tournament, broke back and took three consecutive games to take a one-set lead.
The Romanian went up an early break in the second but Mladenovic pegged her back and eventually ran away with the set in the tiebreak. Halep got back on track in the decider, opening up a 5-2 lead and closed out the match comfortably to grab her 15th career title.
Mladenovic had tweaked her back during her semi-final against Svetlana Kuznetsova and was asked if it hampered her performance against Halep in the final.
“I think that was an amazing final. I don’t really want to talk about my lower back. Obviously I tried not to show anything. You guys are seeing pretty much everything, I guess,” said Mladenovic.
“Of course, it happened yesterday. I had some tensions, some pain here and there. 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.”
The final lasted two hours and 44 minutes, with both players pushing each other to their limits at times.
“Of course, it’s difficult for me right now to end up this amazing week as a finalist. But sometimes it’s also the beauty of the sport. There has to be a winner and a finalist,” said Mladenovic.
“I can just be proud out there from both of us what we showed. I think it was a great final. Great spirit, attitude, great game. Got to give credit to Simona for an amazing game today. Yeah, just head up and only take the positives.”