Halep battles emotions, feeds off raucous crowd to win National Bank Open title

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TORONTO — Blue, yellow and red flags waved and fans chanted “Si-Mo-Na! Yeah-Mo-Na!” while Simona Halep stood in the center of the court with her fists clenched and both hands firmly in the air, where she held them for a long while as she looked up at the sky.

On Sunday afternoon, the 30-year-old Romanian won the National Bank Open with a three-set, two-way victory over Beatriz Haddad-Maia, the unseeded Brazilian who had killed giants this week, but not that much. in the final about the woman who has now won an incredible three titles in Canada.

And as much as Halep loves playing in this country, calling it “special” in her post-match speech, which got the crowd pumping, the fact is that Toronto in particular really loves Halep. Romanian flags absolutely dominated the crowd on Sunday, with some wearing Romanian-colored cowboy and jester hats, and others holding signs that read “We love Simona!”

The fans who helped make this the most attended women’s event in tournament history went absolutely crazy to see Halep win. Their raucous chants continued throughout the match, and so often that the chair umpire had to say “thank you” and “please” in his sweet voice several times to shut them up so play could resume.

“For me it’s great to have such great support because it pushes you through the tough times,” Halep said after the match, dressed in a Nike sweatshirt, black shorts and tennis shoes, her trophy on a table in front of her. “They cheered me on every point, even if I was down during the match. It’s super important because you feel like you have a lot of people by your side and you feel a little stronger.”

Halep feels much stronger than she did a couple of months ago. And, starting Monday, he will take back his place among the top 10 in the world.

“I’ve been there for many years, but now I feel like it’s important to be back in the top 10,” the two-time Grand Slam winner said, with a smile. “I am very happy with this performance. When I started the year I didn’t have much confidence and I set myself the goal of being in the top 10 at the end of the year. And here I am. So it’s a very special moment. I’m going to enjoy it. I’ll give myself credit. I’m just dreaming for more.”

And that’s huge too, for Halep to dream for more. Earlier this season, he said that he was thinking of taking a step back from tennis, but then started working with coach Patrick Mouratoglou, and says that he regained his “fire”.

The fire was in this championship match, no doubt. It featured incredible rallies and it was an up and down battle, much more so than the final scoreline 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 suggests.

Halep did herself no favors from the start. In his first service game, he committed four double faults, including at break point. The serve was his biggest struggle all week.

“Oh yeah, terrible,” Halep said. “I’ve been a bit stressed. He didn’t expect to commit four double faults in one game. I don’t know if it happened before. But sometimes you have to accept that you’re not good at times and you keep fighting to calm down and get your confidence back.”

And did she ever come back from that brutal start? Down 0-3 in the opening set, Halep not only held serve for the first time on Championship Sunday, she finished one of her service games with an emphatic ace and won six straight to take the opening set with a crossover. winner. After the set point, Halep leaned down and gave a loud fist bump as the crowd roared and waved flags at him.

“I was three times up and I couldn’t contain my emotions, I couldn’t control myself,” said Haddad Maia, who earlier this week defeated World No. 1 Iga Swiatek and who made history as the first Brazilian. to break the final of a WTA 1000 event. “Simona began to play better, to improve.”

Halep also struggled with emotions on Sunday, which she said explained her slow start. “I usually get rid of them quickly,” he said. “But today also his turn [because Haddad Maia is a lefty]I needed a bit of time to get used to it. And yes, I calmed down after 0-3. So I think I found a good rhythm. I played what I had to play. That’s why I was able to win six games in a row.”

But it was all Haddad Maia in the second set. When the Brazilian won a break point on a passing shot while Halep was at the net, Halep hurled her racket down the court in frustration, then hit her thigh several times when Haddad Maia converted on that break point. The World No. 24 also kept rolling: Haddad Maia took a 4-0 lead and didn’t look back, provoking the Brazilian fans in attendance, who erupted into “Ole, ole, ole, old, Bi- Bi-a! ! sings as she forced a third set.

“I think Brazilians are not used to crying out for tennis,” Haddad Maia said, with a smile. “Sometimes they yell a little more. They think they are in a football match.”

And it created a great atmosphere.

Halep regained control early in the third set, converting her first break chance to take a 2-0 lead when Haddad Maia sent a long shot. In the final game of the match, Halep made the kind of incredible shot that helped her get here. Haddad Maia was up at the net, and when Halep scrambled to reach for a forehand shot, he blasted a crossover shot, going from defense to immediate offense, and putting the crowd in another jitter for their eventual champion.

On Monday, Halep heads to Cincinnati for her next event. “So I’m going to practice, that’s going to be the celebration,” he said. “There is no time for celebrations.”

Well, maybe not for the woman who is the cause of the party, but I bet there are more than a few Romanians celebrating in her honor in and around Toronto. Sunday marks Halep’s first win in this city, having won her last two Canadian titles in the other host city, Montreal.

“There are a lot of Romanians here and they always come to support me,” he said. “I am very happy to be able to win here as well.”

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