"This level is tough, one set down, one set up..." Simona Halep had said after winning Dubai from Elena Rybakina from Kazakhstan 3-6, 6-3, 7-6. When Rybakina played nearly her absolute best in the opening set winning over Halep, it was proof this match would be a hustle.
The Romanian didn't want to go down like she did last year when her quarterfinal berth closed the door on her getting the title. She knows the struggle and her world number two ranking has justified her fortitude on the WTA tour.
Things happen and the loss of the first set made Halep push herself hard and true. "I fought hard, I really wanted (to win) this tournament because I love playing here...I gave everything I had. Now I'm actually pretty dead!" she exclaimed laughingly after her win.
It was her 20th career title, but she takes nothing for granted in everyday getting on the court and trying to earn the wins. She gave kudos to her opponent whose age is the same amount of titles she's earned in professional tennis as well as the years the Dubai event has evolved.
"I was checking the board to see how fast she served. Somtimes I couldn't really touch the ball, it was really tough to return." Halep isn't the tallest and biggest player on the circuit, but her physical and mental stamina counteracts her ability to win over adversity.
Five years ago she enjoyed her run in Dubai and capped the 2015 Dubai title from Karolina Pliskova in straight sets, but time marches on and the 20-year-old Rybakina has elevated her game to play the big women of tennis. She almost matched Halep with the same numbers of winners and errors.
She is just as feisty and a die-hard on clipping the corners and nailing those down-the-lines. She had proved herself in defeating Sofia Kenin, leaving her wilted in a 3-set battle that she took defiantly. Rybakina also put a hurting on Petra Martic who isn't such a push over either being on tour for 12 years and reaching a high ranking of No.
14 in January. The 20-year-old also had a big win over Czech Karolina Pliskova so she was just overjoyed to have reached the Dubai finals and also the finals of the St. Petersburg Open but defeated by Kiki Bertens. Everything is a lesson and Simona Halep came up with the goods when her back was against the wall to perform with success.
At times it was scary, coming back from a set down and then winning a set. She had to prove the Dubai title was in the cards and she dealt with her victory points well when Rybakina brought the deciding set to a tiebreak. Halep was down but not at all out.
"Crazy emotions to be honest...she played really, really well..." the tough Romanian had said of her younger opponent. But experience might have taken over for Halep to close out the match andtitle with a tiebreak.
It might have let her feeling a bit 'dead' but accomplished enough to bring confidence and strategies into the next tournament for more victories on court.