By Jack Cunniff
(August 24, 2013) NEW HAVEN – For Simona Halep, it all came together in Rome. Ranked 64th at the time, she defeated three players ranked in the Top Twenty en route to the semifinals, where she lost to Serena Williams. Her strong form continued with tournament victories in Nurnberg, s’Hertogenbosch, and Budapest. And on the eve of the U.S. Open, she has now won her fourth title of 2013, and largest of her career, taking the New Haven Open title over Petra Kvitova.
It is Halep’s first Premier title on the WTA Tour, and it will vault her into the world’s Top Twenty; she is expected to be No. 19 on Monday. How will she feel as one of the top women’s players? Based on an 11-4 record vs. the Top Twenty since Rome, she certainly belongs.
Four thousand fans arrived at Yale today to watch the New Haven Open final, probably expecting the defending champion, Kvitova, to repeat. The 23-year-old is a former Wimbledon champion, a former world No. 2, and the third seed. But as the players warmed up, emcee Wayne Bryan listed the recent achievements of the unseeded Halep; she was deserving of her spot in the final.
In the first few games, Kvitova began the way she finished her semifinal match, when she crushed Klara Zakopalova 6-0, 6-1. She held serve easily, and had a 15-40 advantage in each of Halep’s first two service games. Halep successfully fought her way through her service games, then broke Kvitova’s service for a 3-2 lead. That lead to a flurry of unforced errors from Kvitova that continued for the remainder of the match. The 21-year-old from Romania went on a streak of nine straight games, to lead 6-2, 4-0. While Kvitova managed to salvage her final two service games, Halep sealed the title with an ace, 6-2, 6-2.
Halep becomes only the second unseeded player to win the title in New Haven; her semifinal victim, Caroline Wozniacki, was the first in 2008. She becomes the tenth different player to capture the title in New Haven since the event has been played at Yale University in 1998. Seven of the previous nine champions also have Grand Sam Singles titles on their résumé.
In Doubles action, Sania Mirza and Zheng Jie took the title in straight sets over Anabel Medina Garrigues and Katarina Srebotnik, 6-3, 6-4. Mirza and Zheng were playing in their third hard court event this summer as a duo, and had struggled in their earlier events. Those struggles continued in the first two rounds in New Haven, as the pair had to battle through 10-8 third set scores in both of those matches to stay alive. But they’ve started to gel as a team, and won in straight sets in the semifinals and final to take the trophy. As Mirza noted afterwards, “I think that you got to win, so to say, a couple ugly matches.” They played their best today against the veteran duo of Srebotnik and Medina Garrigues, who are playing together for the first time in eight years.