Halep sends out 2020 statement with dazzling Dubai title triumph

 - Alex Sharp

The 2018 Roland-Garros champion illustrated her renowned fight to clinch her first title since Wimbledon

©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Sprawled out on the baseline in the shape of a star, Simona Halep was completely exhausted, but was a champion once again.

The top seed at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships beat her chest, beaming a smile towards her support team, before soaking up the unrelenting calls of “SI-MO-NA” from the crowd.

It was a milestone triumph for the world No.2.

Halep, always in contention for the top prizes

“It's very special to be in 2020, 20th anniversary of this tournament, my 20th title. It's pretty special,” stated Halep. “I just want enjoy it. It's very, very beautiful.

The 28-year-old is simply always in contention for the top prizes, but Halep hadn’t had her named scribed onto a trophy since Wimbledon last July.

Halep, 2015 champion in Dubai, seemed intent on sending out a signal to her rivals, navigating through the field with steely performances, punctuated by the usual sublime shot making and endeavour.

The former Roland-Garros winner saved match point in her opening encounter with Ons Jabeur, before prevailing from a set down to oust Aryna Sabalenka. A flawless showing in the semi-finals against Jennifer Brady launched the top seed into the final to play the 2020 sensation Elena Rybakina.

Simona Halep preparing a forehand during the 2020 Australian Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Dramatic tie-break

The Kazakh, leading the WTA Tour on 19 wins already this season, was into her fourth final in five events, having dispatched Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and second seed Karolina Pliskova on the way.

A captivating final, bursting with quality and highlight reel hot shots, culminated in Halep stealing a 3-6 6-3 7-6(5) victory in the dramatic tie-break.

“It feels great that I could win it. Actually, it was amazing, crazy emotions to be honest,” declared the two-time Grand Slam winner.

“She fought till the end. She didn't give up any balls. It was really tough mentally. The pressure was very high. But I want it badly, I love playing here so much, so that's why I fought till the end. I gave everything and I’m pretty dead.

“I'm still there“

The Romanian, cheered on by raucous fans blazoned in her country’s red, blue and yellow all week, drew level with Victoria Azarenka in sixth place of active title winners behind Serena and Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova.

“I had no idea honestly. Yeah, it's pretty amazing. I've done a lot of results, many results these six, seven years. I'm staying here in the Top 5, Top 10, which is not easy. I'm proud of my job,” stated Simon after lifting her 20th title.

“Also this tournament gives me confidence that I'm still there.”

Halep is definitely “still there” and not that the WTA field needs it, but the Dubai title tilt will remind the rest of the elite players that Halep is hungry for more and more silverware success.

©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

A huge element of Halep’s threat to the biggest prizes is her astonishing consistency, which has maintained her streak in the Top 10 at 318 weeks and counting

Set for a special 2020

“I always had in my mind that I have to be consistent. I didn't like the way that you win a tournament and then you don't do anything for a few months. I liked to build my power, to build my consistency every week,” claimed the 28-year-old.

“Since I met Darren (Cahill), I thought that we just have to look at the big picture, not just at that week. So I did that pretty well. That's why I could stay so long time in the top.

“I think this makes me more proud than winning titles because if you are able to be there means that you have everything like power, strong mental, physical also, very strong. I think it's a good position and I'm enjoying it.”

Breakfast up at the prestigious Burj Al Arab toasted the title triumph, but soon it will be back to that “big picture.”

On the foundations built in Dubai, Simona is set for a special 2020.