DOHA - Simona Halep confirmed her status as the WTA's tour's rising star on Sunday as she collected the biggest prize of her career with an impressive 6-2, 6-3 victory over Angelique Kerber in the Qatar Open. The 22-year-old seventh seed Romanian - who was winning her third WTA title - eased to victory over the 26-year-old sixth seeded German, to add her to other impressive conquests this week the second and fourth seeds, Agnieszka Radwanska and Sara Errani.
Once again the pace of Halep's hitting, and her daring play, placed a more experienced and more highly rated opponent under such continuous pressure that she forced uncharacteristic errors. Only briefly did she falter, at the start of the second set when she went 1-2 down, but she quickly regained the momentum. At the end the tenacious and usually consistent Kerber concluded the one-sided contest with a double fault. "I never believed I could win the tournament when I came here," said Halep, who reached the world's top ten for the first time only last month. "I had been competing indoors, but mentally I am very strong and I got the feel of the balls and the court here very well. I have to enjoy this now as the best moment of my life."
She could hardly have made a better start. She broke Kerber's serve at once, bulleting ground strokes with the same rifling speed and accuracy as in her conquest of Radwanska on Saturday, and bouncing around the court as though she owned it. Halep consolidated with a comfortable hold of serve, advancing to 3-1. She even summoned the outrageous good fortune to counter a Kerber net cord with a net cord of her own, opening up the court for another of her many winners.
When Halep broke again and held again for 5-1 the match appeared to be heading for a rout. But Kerber knew that getting the first good strike into the rally was more than usually important against an opponent in such hot form and started to take more risks to do it. It helped her get into it more. Kerber held serve with a struggle but then, with a break-back point for 3-5, unaccountably failed to put a ball away from right on top of the net.
Halep duly closed out the set and broke again at the start of the second, before her momentum subsided a little, allowing Kerber to break back. However a telling phase followed in the fifth game, when Halep's pounding rhythm restored itself and Kerber was obliged to take even greater risks. Eventually, break point down again, she attempted a drop shot from so far back that Halep was able to make the kill with time for a thank you. Halep held for 4-2, and for 5-3, still launching early and powerful attacks at the slightest opportunity, pressuring a frustrated Kerber into her uncharacteristic anti-climactic double fault.
And yet all might have been different. Few saw Halep's opening encounter on an outside court in which she trailed 3-5 in the final set to Kaia Kanepi, the unseeded Estonian, before surviving in a frantic tie-break by seven points to five. Kerber commented: "She played good the whole week."
"As I said, I was actually not there at the beginning of the match, and she was up very fast. I was then trying to find my rhythm, and I couldn't find it at the end. But I was trying to do everything, but she played better in the important moment and actually in the whole match." Halep is already the only woman player to win at least one title on hard, clay and grass courts, and has now won seven of her last eight matches against top ten players. For the moment her reward is to climb just one place to world number nine. Few would now bet against her soon climbing again though, with Errani, Jelena Jankovic, and Petra Kvitova very much in her sights.