Simona Halep sends Australian Open warning with first title in 16 months
A fit-again Simona Halep stormed to her first title in 16 months when she downed Russian Veronika Kudermetova to clinch the Melbourne Summer Set crown Sunday in a timely return to form.
The two-time Grand Slam champion used all of her big-match experience to pull through 6-2, 6-3 at the Rod Laver Arena in the ideal preparation for the Australian Open, which starts January 17.
There were two simultaneous WTA events as part of the Melbourne Summer Set, with Amanda Anisimova battling past Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich 7-5, 1-6, 6-4 to win the other.
It was the 20-year-old American’s second WTA Tour crown, as she too heads into the opening Grand Slam of the year full of confidence.
🇷🇴 SI-MO-NA 🇷🇴
— wta (@WTA) January 9, 2022
Former world number one Halep had not landed any silverware since Rome in September 2020, due largely to a calf tear that scuttled her mid-season in 2021 and saw her briefly fall outside the top 20 for the first time since 2013.
But she is back to full fitness and proved too good for the 32st-ranked Kudermetova to claim her 23rd career title.
“Let’s keep winning because I like this feeling,” said 20th-ranked Halep, who made the final at the 2018 Australian Open, losing to Caroline Wozniacki.
She had a shaky start and was broken on her second service game, but quickly settled down to draw errors from the Russian in the next game and break straight back.
Halep took complete charge to win the next four games and seal the set in 34 minutes.
But, as in the first set, she was again broken early by Kudermetova, who got a semi-final walkover after top seed Naomi Osaka withdrew with an abdominal injury.
Once more, the Romanian kept her cool to break back for 2-2, then broke again for 5-3, pumping her fists in delight before serving out for a comfortable victory.
— wta (@WTA) January 9, 2022
Earlier, unseeded world number 78 Anisimova overcame a mid-match slump and treatment to her left leg to down Sasnovich for her second-ever WTA Tour crown.
Her previous one came at Bogota in 2019 as a 17-year-old, the youngest American to clinch a title since Serena Williams at Indian Wells in 1999.
“I’m in such a good headspace now after an incredibly tough year,” said Anisimova, who missed the Australian swing last year after testing positive for the coronavirus.
“It’s so good to start off the year in a good place and winning a title, I honestly couldn’t ask for any more.”
A win appeared unlikely for the 2019 French Open semi-finalist when she lost the second set and went 3-0 down in the third, but she battled back to deny qualifier Sasnovich her first title.
Sasnovich played a beautiful lob to earn her first break point and was rewarded on her second when Anisimova double-faulted to give her a 3-2 lead in the opening set.
She held for 4-2 but Anisimova’s powerful groundstrokes were effective and the American broke back for 4-4.
It went with serve until Anisimova struck again to take the set.
But she then lost focus and slumped 4-0 down in the second set, getting treatment for a left upper leg issue.
It looked all over when she lost the set then went 3-0 behind in the decider, but fought back to claim a memorable victory.