Cincinnati 2017: Simona Halep’s hopes for No1 dashed by impressive Muguruza
Simona Halep was beaten by Garbine Muguruza in the final of the Cincinnati Masters on Sunday
The battle for the No1 ranking in women’s tennis has been raging for almost a year, since Serena Williams passed on the baton after 186 consecutive weeks at the top to US Open champion Angelique Kerber.
Since then, the top spot has changed hands six times, with Williams reclaiming the No1 ranking after her Australian Open victory, and again interrupting Kerber’s residency for three weeks in late spring.
But with Williams out of contention for the rest of 2017 as she expects her first child, the battle has been joined repeatedly by up to five women through the clay and grass seasons.
And it was the ever-consistent Simona Halep who pressed most persistently after an injury-blighted start to the year. Her surge began in Miami, then came a semi run in Stuttgart, victory in Madrid, the final in Rome, and the No1 ranking was hers if she won at Roland Garros. She was runner-up.
In the event, it would be Karolina Pliskova who rose to No1 during Wimbledon, despite losing in the second round, while the Romanian had the opportunity to rise to No1 in three consecutive tournaments.
After losing to Jelena Ostapenko at the French Open, she had another bite of the cherry in Eastbourne: she fell to Caroline Wozniacki. The odds then seemed in her favour at Wimbledon as she came within touching distance of the semis, which would have sealed the deal, only to lose 7-6, 6-7, 4-6 to Johanna Konta.
Halep’s hopes were ignited again through Washington and Toronto, but her retirement in the extreme conditions of the former closed the door.
Halep then made the semis in Canada, losing to one of her rivals in the race to No1: Elina Svitolina. Which meant that, come Cincinnati, Halep, Svitolina, Kerber and Wozniacki—the Toronto runner-up—were all in contention again, and Halep could grab the No1 with the title. And sure enough she made the final.
But there she came up against the formidable world No6, Garbine Muguruza, who surged to the Wimbledon title a month ago. The rangy and powerful Spaniard had beaten Halep in both previous hard-court matches, but Halep had the advantage in their last meeting, more than two years ago, on clay.
But Muguruza never gave an inch from the first ball to the last of a blistering performance, 6-1, 6-0, completed in under an hour.
The 23-year-old Spaniard, had taping on thigh and calf, but that seemed to impede her not at all. She broke immediately for a 3-0 lead, and again to serve for the set, 6-1.
The only real resistance came in the fourth game of the second set, as Halep stepped up her attack, and earned two chances to break in a 12-minute game. But Muguruza held firm, broke once more, and served it out, 6-0, to claim her first Premier 5 title.
She afterwards highlighted that long fourth game as pivotal in her victory:
“I felt there was a key game in the second set, the 3-0 game, but I felt very comfortable there, playing against Simona, and also my level was very high. I felt like especially in the second set I could raise it a little bit more and close the match.”
So Halep’s hopes for No1 move on to the US Open, which may be her best chance thus far. Pliskova has final points to defend there, Halep only quarter-final points—and the Romanian trails the Czech by just five points.
However, the danger once again could be Muguruza. Her second-round loss in New York last year means she has big points to gain, and she trails the top two women by fewer than 600 points.