Simona Halep claimed her 42nd win to clinch a second Rogers Cup title at the end of the best WTA match of the season. The world No.1 defeated third-seeded Sloane Stephens 7-6 (6) 3-6 6-4 in a see-saw battle that featured 15 service breaks.
The Romanian became the 12th player in the Open Era to win multiple Rogers Cups after Evonne Goolagong, Regina Marsikova, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Stefanie Graf, Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Amélie Mauresmo, Justine Henin, and Serena Williams.
According to Tennis Abstract that charted the match, Halep won six more points in the rallies that needed less than three points and looked consistent off the forehand side despite nine winners. On serve, her second serve was more efficient in the match: on percentage, rallies were shorter than it happened on Stephens' second deliveries.
Halep completed her sixth main draw appearance in the tournament with her sixth straight victory over the American who had to wait yet for her maiden victory over a current World No.1. The Romanian, after a first-round bye, defeated Pavlyuchenkova in the second round in a match lasting just over three hours.
Then, she came back to win her second match of the day against Venus Williams and reach her ninth quarter-final of the season. She hit 19 winners and only 12 unforced errors to beat No.6 Garcia to seal her fifth Top 10 win of 2018 and saw off Barty in the semifinals.
In the final, she improved to 10-27 her win-loss record over Top 5 players beating No.3 Stephens who reached her first Rogers Cup final. The Roland Garros runner-up opened her campaign with a second-round win over Abanda and eased past qualifier Suárez Navarro in the round-16 improving her mark against qualifiers in 2018 to 6-1 since the beginning of the season.
In the quarter-finals, she won the first five games to see off No.19 Sevastova in straight sets to seal her seventh Top 20 victory of the season, then she dethroned defending champion Svitolina in the semifinals. A back-and-forth opening set saw Halep jump to a 4-1 lead before Stephens found the range with her forehand and broke serve three times to take a 6-5 lead.
The American then wasted two set points as Halep forced a tiebreaker. Stephens again looked to be on the brink of the first set after surging into a 5-1 lead which soon became 6-4 in the tiebreak. But once again the American was unable to seal the deal, Halep recovering to win the next four points for 8-6.
Stephens responded brilliantly in the second set as she broke Halep twice in the first three games and advanced into a 5-3 lead. Once again though she appeared to be on her way to squandering the momentum, wasting three set points in the ninth game.
Bidding to become the 11th different American woman to win the Rogers Cup in the Open Era, following in the footsteps of Bartkowicz (1968), Evert (1974, 1980, 1984-85), Louie (1975), DuPont (1979), Austin (1981), Navratilova (1982-83, 1989), Shriver (1987), Capriati (1991), Seles (1995-98) and Serena Williams (2001, 2011, 2013), she managed to take the second set.
“I can say at the end of the set, I let down a little bit the match because I was so tired. I just wanted to save a little bit of energy for the third one. I knew that I'm going to lose it because Stephens was on the match and was dominating a little bit in the second set” said Halep.
“I think obviously a year ago when I was playing here, I was ranked 900 something. This week I'm 3. I think to make the semis last year here was great,” said Stephens. “Then obviously making the finals here is even better.
I'm playing good tennis. There's nothing to complain about. I hope that it keeps getting better. I hope it keeps improving”. She gave Halep renewed hopes as she lost her serve to open the third. Stephens broke back for 2-2 but then suffered a letdown as Halep broke service twice more to take the lead.
A hold left the world No.1 4-2 up and she bagged another break in the seventh game to go 5-2 ahead when Stephens wearily duffed a straightforward volley into the net. Stephens refused to go quietly though, saving a match point before breaking for 5-3, and then saving two more match points to hold.
“I get tired during the matches, but I have enough rhythm and also enough power in the muscles to stay there. Then I think the serve is a bit better. Also, my forehand is stronger. I can do much more with it. With the backhand, normally I want just to finish some points.
I think everywhere I improved a little bit” confessed Halep in the post-match press conference. “Today I hit some drop shots, which I don't normally do, but because I was too tired. They were okay. I feel like I'm a stronger player in all the ways this year”.
Stephens fought off three match points for one last service break before Halep closed out serving an ace on match point. “I really wanted it because I couldn't finish the games before. At 5-4, I said that I have to serve bigger.
During the match, it was a little bit softer. I had a little bit of pain in my abs. It was tough to hit constantly. In the last game I just wanted to hit it, so I was lucky to hit an ace at the match point”. That victory testified Halep's physical and mental efforts throughout the season.
Mentally I'm okay. I really started to enjoy more the time on the court. I'm more relaxed. I'm not thinking about the result any more” she revealed. “Maybe that's why I'm able to win matches”.