Unseeded Caroline Garcia of France won her second title in as many weeks as she stunned new world No. 1 Simona Halep in a closely-fought final of the China Open on Sunday.
Garcia is in the form of her life and edged out the Romanian second seed 6-4, 7-6 (3) to add the China Open to the Wuhan Open title she lifted last weekend, making it five WTA crowns in all.
Garcia’s feat was all the more remarkable because she was carrying a leg injury that has required frequent on-court treatment and completed a mammoth three-set quarter-final win well past midnight on Friday evening.
The 23-year-old, who is set to rise from number 15 to nine in the world, sank to her knees in relief when she finally sealed victory in the second-set tiebreak.
“I was like, ‘Seriously, this really happened?'” Garcia said of what thoughts came to mind after she won on her first match point.
“I mean, it was such an amazing two weeks. It went so fast. I have the feeling I started these tournaments yesterday or two days ago. To play every single day, it was just after every match you had to forget about what happened and be on the present again.
“Even this morning I couldn’t believe I was in the final. Like to win it on my first match point in the tiebreak against Simona, new No. 1, it’s very difficult for me to believe. Even I looked at my dad, and it didn’t help me to relax actually.
“It’s just amazing. It’s difficult to put words on what I’m feeling right now.”
With rain teeming down outside ahead of what turned out to be a cracker, a leak in the Diamond Court stadium roof had threatened to dampen proceedings.
But that was soon fixed and there was little between the two players until Garcia broke Halep in the 10th game to grab the first set.
The 26-year-old Halep had the superior mobility — Garcia had her right thigh strapped – but the French player was making the better shots.
One forehand winner was greeted with gasps from the mostly full arena in Beijing.
The second set was even more competitive and the attritional seventh game turned out to be a turning point.
Garcia was 0-40 down on her own serve until dragging it to 40-40 and then saving half a dozen break points before somehow winning the game to go 4-3 up.
The duo raced into the tie break, but Garcia now had the momentum and she held her nerve to make it a famous Wuhan-Beijing double.
Garcia is now on an 11-match winning streak that has included two top-five victories. She is in pole position to clinch the final qualification spot for the WTA Finals in Singapore.
Between her two sensational titles runs in China, her ascension to the world’s top-10, and her potential berth in Singapore, Garcia is spoilt for choice as to which feat is more special to her.
“It’s like if you ask me to choose between ice cream, chocolate cake. It’s like, I don’t know,” she said with a smile.
“It all means something. To win a title, it always means something because you finish the week undefeated. You stay forever a winner of this tournament. So it definitely means something.
“To be in the top-10 also means something because it’s a step in your career that you want to achieve. You never know if you’re going to reach it, but it’s a very important goal. It’s mean you are a part of the top-10 best player in the world.
“To have the chance to be in the fight for Singapore, it’s something after last year in doubles give you motivation to do it in singles because, for sure, means more.”
Britain’s Johanna Konta will have to at least reach the final in Moscow next week to stop Garcia from making the season finale in Singapore.
Despite her disappointment Halep will officially become world No. 1 for the first time when the latest rankings are out on Monday.
The Romanian paid full credit to her opponent for the win.
“I consider that she won the match, I didn’t lose it. Of course, I couldn’t be, like, 100 per cent after yesterday. It was a little bit tough. I felt tired a little bit. My legs were a little bit sore,” said Halep.
“But I think I fought till the end, which I’m really happy about. She played an amazing tennis. To win two tournaments in a row, it’s a great thing. She deserved to win today. She was better.”
Emotional Simona Halep called it the best day of her life as she surged to number one in the world for the first time after reaching the China Open final on Saturday.
The Romanian, who said her next goal was to win a maiden Grand Slam, defeated Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-4 in their semi-final.
Her ousting of Spaniard Garbine Muguruza at the top of the women’s game will be officially confirmed on Monday when the latest rankings are released.
The 26-year-old Halep is the fifth woman to hold top spot this year, but the first Romanian in the history of the WTA.
She smiled broadly, then cried and was presented with a flower arrangement in the figure “1” — which she hugged tightly — to celebrate the landmark moment.
“My dream is true now, in that moment you cannot believe 100 percent that it’s happening, so I was in tears a little bit,” she said.
“Maybe first time on court (to cry) nice tears… It’s the best moment in my life and I want just to keep it.
“Now tomorrow already I have just to restart everything, to start again to play the same and to work harder.
“And I have a few more dreams in my career.”
We have a NEW World No.1…
— WTA (@WTA) October 7, 2017
Asked by AFP what those were, she smiled: “I tell you one, only one: to win a Grand Slam, which you know.”
Halep saw off former number one Maria Sharapova earlier this week in Beijing and Saturday’s defeat of Ostapenko had a whiff of revenge – the 20-year-old won their duel in the French Open final earlier this year.
Halep will face either Caroline Garcia of France or Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in Sunday’s China Open final.
She was always in control against the world number eight Ostapenko and put herself on the way to victory when she broke the talented Latvian in the first game of the first set.
Halep’s ascension to the top brings Muguruza’s four-week reign as number one to an end, while the others who held the honour in 2017 are Angelique Kerber, Serena Williams and Karolina Pliskova.
The outstanding Williams is temporarily out of tennis after having her first child.
In the lead-up to Beijing, Halep said she was unconcerned about becoming world number one, but admitted with a grin: “Of course I wanted it.
“When I was five points away I felt that I want it more and more.”
The Romanian lost a heart-breaker to Sharapova in the US Open first round just five weeks ago, and their previous showdowns included a three-set defeat to the Russian in the 2014 Roland Garros final.
At the China Open on Wednesday, Halep secured the win in emphatic fashion, needing just 72 minutes to overcome the five-time Grand Slam champion and roll into the quarter-finals.
“It was a great match. I think I played my best tennis against her. I served pretty well and the work that I did after US Open, now I could see on court, and I’m really happy I could do this. It’s my first victory against her and I just want to enjoy the moment,” Halep told WTA Insider.
“Actually many times I played against her I felt that I can win the match, I can beat her, but it didn’t happen. Today I just said that it’s another match, I have just to give everything I have, to stay focused, calm and positive, which I did great and it helped me a lot.”
Sharapova had fought through two three-setters prior to her match against Halep, spending a total of five hours and 17 minutes on court in her opening two rounds versus Anastasija Sevastova (who beat Sharapova at the US Open), and Ekaterina Makarova.
The ex-world No. 1, who is still working her way back up the rankings following her 15-month doping ban, admits she lacked sharpness against Halep.
“Look, first of all, I think she played an incredible match, probably the best she’s played against me in all of our previous meetings. And I wasn’t as sharp. I wasn’t seeing the ball as well. I wasn’t moving up and down as well as I have been against her,” said the 30-year-old Sharapova.
“She was hitting the ball consistently, not making a lot of unforced errors, her service percentage was quite high. She did all the right things.”
— WTA (@WTA) October 4, 2017
Currently ranked 104 in the world (she’s projected to rise to around 86 next week), Sharapova will next head to Tianjin, where, like in Bejiing, she will be playing as a wildcard.
During her time away from the sport, Sharapova penned her memoir ‘Unstoppable: My Life So Far’, in which she discussed her journey as a youngster from Sochi to Florida with her father, her rivalry with Serena Williams, and her feelings about tennis.
She was asked in Beijing to elaborate on some of her comments in the book, regarding how some players don’t necessarily love the sport.
“I think in order to be a tennis player, you have to be doing somewhat of a good job. Like, no one that is here is not doing a good job. The level is too high. It’s too physical, too mental. You just won’t make it. Hard work is not good enough anymore. Maybe it was I don’t know how many years ago, but that’s just not a factor anymore,” explained Sharapova.
“The reason I say that is, I mean, there’s some incredible moments, very high moments, and there are very low moments. There have been times where I get off the court and you think, I don’t wish this on my future child.
“The feeling is so tough and disappointing. You work so much, you dedicate so much of your time, you have so many people around you, and sometimes it doesn’t work according to plan, so you start asking questions.
“But then once you work, you keep going, keep fighting through it, the rewards are very incredible and special. They have nothing to do with finance, they have nothing to do with trophies, it’s really internal. I think sport gives people something that nothing really else can replicate. I think that’s what makes it so great.”