Elina Svitolina boosts French Open chances with one-sided win over Simona Halep to retain the Internazionali BNL d’Italia title

Hannah Wilks in WTA 20 May 2018
  • Elina Svitolina defeated Simona Halep 6-0, 6-4 to defend her Internazionali BNL d'Italia title
  • Svitolina's Rome triumph boosts her credentials as a legitimate contender for the French Open title but a poor performance by Halep raises questions
Elina Svitolina with the 2018 Internazionali BNL d'Italia trophy after beating Simona Halep in the final (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Elina Svitolina defended her Internazionali BNL d’Italia title with a surprisingly one-sided victory over a woeful Simona Halep in Rome.

In a rematch of the previous year’s final at the WTA Premier-5 event, Svitolina repeated her victory over Halep from the previous year, ousting the world no. 1 6-0, 6-4 in just 67 minutes. 

World no. 4 Svitolina, a two-time quarterfinalist at the French Open, will enter the forthcoming Grand Slam on a high, while questions swirl around Halep after the top seed turned in an abysmal performance in the final and now holds zero clay-court titles over the past 52 weeks – or any titles bigger than the International-level crown she won in Shenzhen in the first week of the 2017 season.

Halep, who benefited from a walkover in the third round from Madison Keys and had only spent two hours and 23 minutes on court at the Foro Italico before facing Maria Sharapova in the semifinals, had been brilliant in a grueling, physical battle against the Russian on Saturday, eventually outlasting the three-time champion for a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory.

But it was clear from the earliest stages of Sunday’s final that this was not the same Halep who had celebrated so ferociously after beating Sharapova. Svitolina, who has looked self-assured, fit and focused all week at the Foro Italico and who was crisp and collected in a straight-sets semifinal victory over powerful Anett Kontaveit, showcased her impressive turn of speed as she chased down a drop shot which would have been a winner against most other players and broke to love amidst a flurry of unforced errors from the Romanian. She held with a backhand winner for 2-0, then broke again for 3-0 after Halep put a central backhand long to give up break point and Svitolina hammered a forehand winner into the corner to take a double-break lead, having won 12 of the first 18 points.

Another love hold from the Ukrainian followed – and another poor effort from Halep from the line as she double-faulted to 0-40 and was promptly broken to trail 0-5. By that stage, she had made 25 unforced errors.

Halep’s coach Darren Cahill came on to try to encourage her, but was unable to draw a satisfactory response from his player, eventually ending the coaching time-out abruptly by responding to a complaint from Halep with: ‘You know what? You need to figure that out yourself.’

Svitolina swiftly wrapped up the 6-0 first set – the fifth consecutive set she had won against Halep – having won 24 of the 32 points played, striking six winners and four unforced errors to Halep’s two and 11 and winning 86% of points behind her first serve as opposed to just 15% for the Romanian.

Halep finally managed to get on the board as she served to open the second set, and actually pressed the Ukrainian to deuce as Svitolina served for the first time with a backhand winner down the line, but Svitolina fended off the challenge fairly easily to hold for 1-1. Halep had a game point in the next game as she started to play a little better, but Svitolina erased it with a marathon point for deuce which showed all the brilliance she sustained during the match: Almost unbelievable speed around the court, a delicate lob to keep herself in the point and a forehand winner to punish Halep’s poor decision to send the drive volley back at the Ukrainian rather than into the open court. Another backhand error from Halep followed and Svitolina led by a set and a break, 6-0, 2-1.

Halep managed to keep the deficit to one break and had an off-court medical timeout at 2-3 to treat what looked like a lower back issue, but it didn’t help her to get back on serve as Svitolina, unruffled, held to 4-2.

Svitolina’s nerves would be tested once more in the match, after she had three break points to take a 5-2 lead but was unable to convert, with Halep holding to make it 3-4. While Svitolina had won three of the past four matches between the two, the exception was their French Open clash last summer which saw Svitolina lose despite holding a commanding lead, and Halep did her best to try to put some doubts into the Ukrainian’s mind, landing a backhand winner to go up 15-30 as Svitolina served at 4-3. But the world no. 4 was not to be thrown off course today, reeling off the next three points to go up 5-3. Two games later, she closed out the 6-0, 6-4 victory to retain her Rome title.

Halep declined to blame the back injury for her poor performance today, but that almost raises more questions about the Romanian’s mental preparation for a match like that and her ability to handle her emotions should she reach a fourth Grand Slam final at the French Open. As well as Svitolina played, Halep should never be hitting 13 winners and 21 unforced errors – not in tennis conditions in which her opponent delivered 18 winners and 14 unforced errors.

It’s Svitolina and not the world no. 1, who is now the holder of three titles in 2018 and will leave Rome for Paris with every reason to expect herself to be an extremely tough opponent for any player, lower-ranked or higher, at the second Grand Slam of the year, which begins a week today at Roland Garros. 

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Elina Svitolina boosts French Open chances with one-sided win over Simona Halep to retain the Internazionali BNL d’Italia title

World no.4 Elina Svitolina took just 67 minutes to beat Simona Halep 6-0, 6-4 in Rome and reclaim her third title of the year at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, while Halep’s poor performance raises questions ahead of Roland Garros

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