Tennis: Halep wins Italian Open as defending champion Pliskova retires with injury

Simona Halep poses with her trophy after winning the final match of the Women's Italian Open against Karolina Pliskova, on Sept 21, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

ROME (AFP, REUTERS) - Top seed Simona Halep won her first Italian Open title on Monday (Sept 21) after defending champion Karolina Pliskova retired injured while trailing 6-0, 2-1 in the final.

World No. 2 Halep, 28, was competing in her third Rome WTA final, having finished runner-up in 2017 and 2018 on the clay at the Foro Italico.

"Finally after two finals I could win this title," the Romanian said.

"I love this tournament and I'm really happy to have this beautiful trophy in my hand.

"In 2013 here I started to go in the top in world tennis. I really enjoyed and I really was happy on court that I could play the semi-finals back then. Since then I have started to play really well."

Pliskova, the second seed, was playing with her left thigh heavily bandaged.

The Czech struggled with her serve from the outset, falling behind to a double break, handing Halep a 3-0 advantage with a double fault.

Halep saved three break points against her on her next service game before conquering a first one-sided round in 20 minutes.

Pliskova had treatment on her lower back and upper leg before the second set, but pushed on with a break for 1-1 after half an hour.

But the 28-year-old called time in the third game, heading towards Halep to signify the end of the match after 32 minutes.

In total, Halep converted five of seven break point opportunities for her eighth win in 13 meetings with Pliskova, who converted one of four.

Wimbledon champion Halep's 22nd career title comes just a week before the start of the French Open which she won in 2018.

Halep extended her winning streak this season to 14 consecutive victories.

She won the Dubai title in February, before the coronavirus lockdown, coming back to claim victory in Prague last month having skipped the US Open.

Former world No. 1 Pliskova, now ranked fourth, had been having a successful week on clay after her disappointing second-round exit in the US Open where she was the top seed.

She later said that she hopes to be ready in time for Roland Garros and blamed the sudden switch from hard courts to clay and late matches giving her little time to recover.

The Czech said she had been feeling the niggle since her quarter-final victory over Elise Mertens.

"I have to see the doctor to see that it's nothing... I really want to be 100 per cent ready because if I want to go far in a Grand Slam, that's two weeks of tennis," Pliskova said.

"I felt it from the match with Mertens and it was growing every day... This morning I felt it was not really good and I was thinking if I should even play, but you still want to go and try even though it didn't look really good."

Pliskova conceded that the Romanian was the favourite for the title at Roland Garros.

"Now she's won two tournaments on clay, so I think she's confident enough and she's done well there," she said.

"She's going to be dangerous.

"And she had big success in Paris, so I think she's going to be one of my favourites to go for the title."

In the men's final, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic will bid for a record 36th Masters title later on Monday against Argentinian Diego Schwartzman.

The Serb, a four-time winner, is currently tied on 35 Masters crowns with Rafael Nadal, who fell in the quarter-finals last week to Schwartzman.

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