Dubai - Simona Halep, the top-seeded Romanian who looked in danger of a
semi-final exit, produced a marvellous recovery to reach the final of the Dubai
Open, coming from a set down to overcome Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki.
Halep struck the ball with increasing flair and vigour against an opponent
who won the title and played five semi-finals here, and once she had found her
rhythm and timing she proved unstoppable as she accelerated to an impressive
2-6, 6-1, 6-1 win.
Former world number one Wozniacki, responded positively to the stream of
fine ground strokes which increasingly penetrated her mobile defences, trying
to take the attack to her gifted opponent in the final set, and creating some
But she only briefly seemed likely to stem the flow against her, when she
had Halep 15-40 down in the fifth game. Once the favourite had escaped from
that, she hit the ball better, egged on by a surprisingly large and noisy band
Wozniacki had struggled hard with a virus all week, and probably exceeded
expectations in surviving so long, later explaining that the "air of the
balloon just kind of went off."
Halep by contrast improved day by day, something bolstered by another
tenacious recovery, against Ekaterina Makarova, the Russian who was serving for
the match against her yesterday.
"At the beginning of the tournament it was a little bit tough for me,
because I came from Fed Cup, and there it was a bad week for me," Halep
"But coming here I had two, three days relaxing just and hitting the
ball and I found my rhythm, found my game. Now I'm really happy that I play
again a final this year," she added, apparently a reference to her capture
of last year's title in Doha, a little further west along the Gulf coast.
She will face a very different type of opponent in Saturday's final. Instead
of the athletic Wozniacki she plays Karolina Pliskova, the tall, steep-serving
22-year-old from Prague who last month became the youngest player currently in
the top 20, and who reached the biggest final of her career so far with her
third outstanding win.
Having already ousted two seeded players Pliskova followed it with a
nerve-shredding 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 victory over Garbine Muguruza, an elegantly
gifted 21-year-old from Barcelona, snatching a memorable victory just as her
chances seemed to be fading.
Pliskova always had the more dangerous serve, and her 13 aces extended her
year's total to 145, the most on the WTA Tour so far this year. But there were
phases near the end when it seemed that might not be enough.
She had to save two break points at 3-4 in the final set, holding serve with
the help of a video review which showed she had landed another ace, and slipped
to love-40 when she was trying to close the match out at 6-5.
But Pliskova was prepared to gamble on hitting flat and hard, something
which paid off as she clawed back four points in a row, and six out of seven,
to close the match out.
The outcome went against the trend in the second half of the final set when
Muguruza, who had beaten three seeds herself, possessed the more supple and
flexible game, giving her more options in a tricky wind.
But Pliskova has surprised many people including herself. The Czech had
arrived so tired at the start of the week she even wondered whether she might
have to withdraw.
"I was just thinking, okay, I will just go on the court, try, and maybe
I will lose, but I will not be mad at all," she said. "But then I won
- and I'm still winning."