After a rocky start to 2016, Simona Halep won her biggest tournament in over a year at the Mutua Madrid Open. The Romanian defeated Dominika Cibulkova in the final for the second Premier Mandatory title of her career. René Denfeld recaps the women’s finals in the Spanish capital.
One final ace and Simona Halep dropped her racket into the clay at the Caja Magica — celebrating her first title of 2016.
“I’m really happy that I won this tournament,” the Romanian explained after winning the Mutua Madrid Open over Dominika Cibulkova, 6-2, 6-4. “Like I said many times, it’s very special, and I have a special feeling right now. The most important thing is that I played good tennis here. My best actually, my best level. It was amazing on court. I just want to keep that feeling for long time.”
Halep’s road to her second title of this category hasn’t been the toughest, but considering some of her previous showings this year — it wasn’t necessarily about beating all the big names, but rather about finding her groove again — and avoiding the pressure of being the favorite in crumbling draw.
“To be honest, nobody told me that you are a favorite to win — maybe that’s why I won,” the World No. 7 laughed in press. “I didn’t expect actually before coming here that I’m going to win this title — but after first week when I practiced with [coach] Darren [Cahill] every day like I said, many hours on court, I felt that I have my chance. Day by day, I played better tennis. That helped me a lot to improve in myself, in in my mental[ity], and to be more confident. I was feeling great. Nothing like injury or something like that. So everything was okay. That’s why maybe I could win almost in two sets all the matches.”
During the final, Halep settled into the match quickly and got out of the blocks rather early — as she broke Cibulkova immediately and forced the Slovak to play catch-up from there on out.
“I expected a tough match today,” Halep said about the final. “I thought that I will struggling a little bit with her shots, but I was very strong on my legs and I could block. I could make my game, I can say. Yeah, it’s not easy to adjust your game to such a big difference between players, game difference. I just wanted to stay focused and to fight for every ball. I did this, and I think the most important thing was that I believed that I can win.”
The Romanian hit a total of 20 winners to just 10 unforced errors, and even though Cibulkova tried to take the initiative time and time again, overall Halep’s defense often proved to be too big a hurdle. The Slovak’s gamble to flatten out her shots more and go for the lines didn’t pay off — and she eventually hit a total of 23 unforced errors throughout the two sets.
“From the beginning I didn’t want to get rushed,” Cibulkova explained. “I realized that I’m not playing my tennis. I have to be much more aggressive because she was just getting every ball back. When I played one shot, she was just going for it.”
Nonetheless, it was a week to remember and to build upon for the 27-year-old from Bratislava, who celebrated her birthday and posted one of her biggest results since reaching the final of the 2014 Australian Open — even if she came up short in the final match of the tournament.
“Yeah, you know, just one hour after the match, so of course, I’m a little sad,” she said. “I don’t want this loss to get into the great feelings of this week. You know, it was just a great week. I couldn’t — yeah, I could hope for more, but playing finals here, it’s a great experience. I was playing great as the whole week.”
Cibulkova, who didn’t make the cut for the tournament in Rome next week based on her ranking before she won the title in Katowice, will now travel back home and rest up for the year’s second Grand Slam.
“(I’m) flying home tomorrow,” she said.”I going to take few days off and then to have good preparation for Roland Garros.”
Two years after finishing as runner-up to Maria Sharapova and advancing to the final at Roland Garros, Halep returned to Madrid and went one step further in claiming the title — but she’s not looking too far ahead to what that might me for her chances at the year’s second major this time around.
“I hope I will repeat like 2014, but it’s not easy,” she said. “I know that now I have confidence, but every match will be different, will be like difficult, and I don’t want to think too far. I take match by match like I did here and I will keep my confidence very high. Still I have to work every day and to be there in the zone.
“It’s normal that the players that are ranked about 20, 30 want to beat the top 10 players,” Halep said. “It’s normal. I was in that position and I know the feeling — but still, now I’m used to it. I don’t care about who I play. I’m not thinking about the ranking anymore.”