Simona Halep won the second WTA Premier Mandatory title of her career with a classy 6-2, 6-4 beating of Dominika Cibulkova in the Madrid Open final. World No. 7 Halep, a runner-up at the clay-court event in 2014, had dropped just one set throughout the tournament and had steamrollered Sam Stosur in the semifinals.
And the sixth seed was a class above Cibulkova, who became the lowest-ranked player at 38 to reach a Premier Mandatory final, in the Spanish capital.
Cibulkova — who held a 3-1 head-to-head record over Halep before the final — had spent over nine hours and 40 minutes on court this week, and fatigue was perhaps a reason for her slow opening. Halep earned the break at the first opportunity with some confident hitting from the baseline and solid defence.
The Romanian continued to mix up her game and was pounding the ball with exquisite accuracy, and Cibulkova put a backhand into the net to gift Halep a double-break 4-1 lead.
Halep was proving unflappable and even when 0-40 down at 5-2 she remained composed and reeled off five effortless points to clinch the opening set.
Cibulkova, who won her only games in the first set to love, was in trouble again at the start of the second and Halep's punishing accuracy once again earned her a break advantage.
As the set wore on Cibulkova began to land more shots in the corners, but Halep's stunning defence kept her on the front foot.
Halep was forced to serve out for the win and she started by winning a gruelling point that left Cibulkova exhausted, but it was more straightforward on match point as a huge ace secured a 12th WTA Tour title.
In a perhaps positive omen for Halep, the last time she went to the showpiece in Madrid in 2014 she went on to reach the French Open final.
'I give myself a 9.5' - Halep thrilled with Comaneci support
Halep spoke of her pride at receiving the Madrid Open title from Romanian hero and gymnastics legend Nadia Comaneci before rating her performance in the Spanish capital this week as a 9.5.
Comaneci made history at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal by becoming the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10, and she was in attendance to witness her compatriot defeat Cibulkova win her second WTA Premier Mandatory title on Saturday.
Halep, a runner-up at the clay-court event in 2014, was in scintillating form in Madrid and is thrilled with the support she received from her fellow Romanians, including Comaneci.
"You know, it's a special feeling that many Romanians are coming to support me. I see many flags in the crowd. So, yeah, it means a lot," she told a news conference.
"Actually it was a great moment that I got the trophy from Nadia. Perfect 10 means a lot. This week I give to myself 9.5, so not yet 10.
"I didn't expect actually before coming here that I'm going to win this title. But after first week when I practiced with [coach] Darren [Cahill] every day like I said, many hours on court, I felt that I have my chance."
At world number 38, Cibulkova became the lowest ranked player to reach a Premier Mandatory final, but Halep is unsurprised by her opponent's success.
"It's normal that the players that are ranked about 20, 30 want to beat the top 10 players. It's normal," she added.
"I was in that position and I know the feeling. But still, now I'm used to it. I don't care about who I play. I'm not thinking about the ranking anymore."
- Milan’s Jovic hit with two-match ban for hitting opponent
- Long jump trial planned to eliminate foul jumps
- World Team Table Tennis Championships: India women beat Spain, advance to Round of 32
- IND vs ENG, 4th Test: Jasprit Bumrah released from squad; KL Rahul ruled out due to injury
- PVL 2024: Chennai Blitz gets winning momentum back, thrashes Kochi Blue Spikers