Indian Wells 2015: Simona Halep wins her biggest title with Jankovic victory

Simona Halep beats Jelena Jankovic 2-6 7-5 6-4 to win the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells

When the first Premier Mandatory tournament in the women’s tennis calendar got under way almost two weeks ago, the headlines were about an exceptional former champion making her return to the Californian desert after 14 years away, the 33-year-old No1 Serena Williams.

By the time the draw had shrunk from 96 to two, it was about another former Indian Wells champion now in her 30s, the world No21 Jelena Jankovic.

Not only was the popular Serb aiming to equal her best-ever previous result, which she achieved by winning this tournament in 2010, but she had to do it with a bound-up right thigh. For Jankovic had been forced to come back from behind in almost every match in the draw. She was a set down to Lauren Davis, 3-1 down in the third set to Madison Keys, and again 3-1 down in the third to Belinda Bencic. Clearly determined not make life easy for herself, Jankovic concluded by going down a set and a break against Sabine Lisicki in the semis.

But her efforts reminded opponents that here was a former world No1 and Grand Slam finalist. Jankovic was at No6 less than a year ago before injury took her down to No21. It showed remarkable determination that she had made such a comeback after fearing, in her own words, that back injury may prevent her from ever playing again.

To make matters worse for the 30-year-old Serb, she knew she had been forced to three sets in all four of her previous meetings against her final opponent, the No3 Simona Halep, and had lost three of them.

What’s more, Halep had been in great form this season, her quarter-final run at the Australian Open sandwiched between two titles in Shenzhen and Dubai.

But for all her success in the last two years, for all that this would represent Halep’s biggest title thus far, and that she had played far less tennis than Jankovic —helped by Williams withdrawing ahead of the semis—she looked tense right from the start of this match.

The Serb’s determination to avoid another long, gruelling contest made her inject real aggression into her game, taking the ball early, taking to the net, and keeping Halep out her usual penetrating baseline rhythm.

Jankovic broke straight away, conceded a break right back, but after a hold apiece, she made her signature down-the-line backhand winner twice to force break point, and took the first of two more breaks to go on a five-game run and the set, 6-2. It was confident, dynamic tennis, and Halep looked unfocused and uncertain, as she should do with 18 errors to eight winners.

Once Jankovic opened with a love hold, broke again, and consolidated for a 3-1 lead, the good money was on the Serb to run away with the win, but for those who looked, there were now errors creeping into the Jankovic game. She began to talk ceaselessly to her box, to herself and to the heavens, all the more so as she went 0-40 down and then drove a straightforward volley into the net for the break back.

But that proved to be just the start in a see-sawing match of constant breaks, with each woman looked far more confident on their return games. Indeed were it not for the breaks, some of the tennis was gripping, with long, probing rallies testing both women. But it was the kind of tennis that plays to Halep’s strengths, and the Romanian became an impenetrable barrier, and she was eventually the first to hold serve. One more break and she had the second 63-minute set, 7-5.

Jankovic began to look in despair, and not surprisingly. She had notched up 27 errors in that set alone for only eight winners—though Halep’s stats were not wonderful: seven winners for 15 errors.

The third set began with a rare hold apiece, but then the breaks began again—four in a row. Once more, it was Halep who held first, and another break took her to 5-3: Ironically, she had only to hold serve for the match and title, but once again it was a break instead.

No matter: Jankovic was so tense that she double faulted to go 0-40 down, and Halep pounded in to make a smash winner, 6-4.

Halep’s huge army of fans who chant her on at every tournament set up their cheers, ‘Simona, Simona’: She had, it should not be forgotten, just won the biggest title of her career.

Jankovic was gracious in defeat: “I never thought I was going to be here. I have a bad leg and I only trained for three days. It is unbelievable. And my opponent was just unbelievable. I mean you were running for three hours, and I just couldn’t keep up any more! She was the younger one!”

There is no denying the achievement of Jankovic against the odds this fortnight, and this will begin to turn the tide in the rankings.

Halep said less, but also credited her opponent: “You are amazing. I was running, but you were too!”

But this super-fit, super-determined 5ft 6in package of energy proved too much, and it takes Halep to the head of the Race to Singapore leaderboard.

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