In February, Simona Halep won the first WTA title since Wimbledon 2019, beating Elena Rybakina to lift the trophy in Dubai. That proved to be the Romanian's last encounter in five months, with the coronavirus halting the action until last week.
Simona had to withdraw from Palermo in the previous week, returning in Prague and making a winning start against Polona Hercog. World no. 2 survived a scare in a 6-1, 1-6, 7-6 triumph after two and a half hours, wasting six match points in the decider's closing stages before crossing the finish line in the tie break.
It was their first match of the season after three duels in 2019, battling hard in the final set and giving the crowd in Prague something to cheer about. Simona claimed four points more than Polona, fending off five out of 11 break chances and earning six return games from 19 opportunities to find herself over the top.
Simona was off to a strong start, securing three breaks in the opener and closing it with a hold at 15 in game seven for a swift 6-1. From a break down early in the second set, the Slovenian bounced back to notch three breaks in a row, dominating the court with a great mixture of shots to take the set 6-1 and earn momentum ahead of the decider.
They traded breaks in games four and five to stay neck and neck until another break for Simona that sent her 5-3 up. Breaking back at 15 in game nine, Polona refused to surrender, repelling those six match points in games ten and 12 to set a tie break that the Romanian claimed 7-3 to avoid an upset.
Simona Halep converted the seventh match point against Polona Hercog in Prague.
"I knew it would be a long and tough match; it's never easy against Polona. She knows me pretty well, we played in juniors and it was hard to stay in the point due to her variety.
Emotionally, it's not easy but we have to adjust to these tough times; I'm into it. I felt the tension in my back after the first set, even though it was a short one that I played well. I was tired after the second set but I knew she was in the same position; I just had to stick to the plan and fight.
It helped me win the match. I wouldn't like to stay on the court for three hours in my next match. I didn't get upset in tough moments, and I'm proud of that. I fought, knowing that if I had those chances, I would have another one.
The level was really high in the first set. I didn't miss, finding the court very well and placing the balls nicely. I lost balance in the second set as she mixed up her game nicely. In the decider, I tried to keep the ball in and prolong the rallies," Simona Halep said.