Simona Halep is the Vegas favorite for winning the French Open with Serena Williams (pregnant), Maria Sharapova (wildcard-shunned for doping), and Victoria Azarenka (post-pregnancy) out of the mix. But those odds are up in the air after the physical and mental challenges Halep could not overcome in the Italian Open final on Sunday in Rome.
The No. 2-seeded Halep eased to an opening-set victory but rolled her ankle near the end of the first set. Her opponent, No. 8-seeded Elina Svitolina of the Ukraine, worked her way into the match, then hung around until Halep mentally went away in the third set.
With coach Darren Cahill looking on, it was a step back for Halep, who last week won Madrid and bragged about her newfound mental strength after earlier in the year breaking with Cahill when the coach dumped her for giving up during matches.
“I never like to give up during the match,” Halep said afterwards. “I don’t want to stop the matches. So I just wanted to try to win the second set…At 5-3 in the second set, I turned to hit an inside-out forehand, I felt it again. That’s why I called [the trainer] to tape it, because I was scared not to do something worse.”
The 22-year-old Svitolina will return to the Top 10 come Monday on the WTA rankings. She is 4-0 in finals this year after titles in Istanbul, Taipei City, Dubai, and now Rome. She improved to 8-2 in career finals.
“I can be proud of myself for handling the pressure, because I played some tough matches here,” said Svitolina, who also beat No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova. “Today I needed to show that I am there and I want to win and I’m ready to do it.”
Svitolina ran out to a quick 5-0 lead in the third as Halep’s movement issues were apparent. Announcers on the beIN network, the official broadcast partner of the WTA tour, commented on Halep mentally going away, but the Romanian to her credit gave the Ukrainian problems in closing out the match, keeping the points short and slapping winners.
It wasn’t pretty, as Svitolina hit 37 unforced errors to only 25 winners over the three sets. It was enough to beat the hobbled Halep who contributed 47 unforced errors.
“I’m going to enjoy a couple of days with my friends, just chill and recover properly and be ready for first match in Paris,” said Svitolina, a new entry in the long line of players looking to steal a first French Open title with the favorites on the sidelines.
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