Simona Halep had just enough energy left to claim a second Rogers Cup title.
The world’s top-ranked player defeated third-seeded Sloane Stephens 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-4 in a see-saw battle that featured 15 service breaks – eight for Stephens, seven for Halep – at a steaming-hot IGA Stadium on Sunday.
The 26-year-old Halep also won when the event was last held in Montreal in 2016.
“I couldn’t believe that it’s over,” said Halep after claiming her third title this year and the 18th of her career. “This week, it’s been an amazing effort.
“I was really tired. I feel like these tournaments, at this level, you have to have one day off between the matches. It’s really tough. It’s brutal. This week it was really tough.”
Halep let off steam at the Women’s Tennis Association after her quarter-final Friday, for giving her a difficult schedule on a week in which she played twice on one day due to a rain delay. Her week included a 3-hour-7-minute win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova that was played over two days.
But she then cruised to a two-set victory over Ashleigh Barty in the semi-finals and then outlasted Stephens in a thriller that went on for 2 hours and 41 minutes.
It was a repeat of this year’s French Open final, in which Halep beat Stephens in three sets, but she said this one was even better.
“Both matches were crazy good,” said Halep. “She makes me play better and better every time we meet each other.
“That’s a great thing for me. I feel like she improved in her mental [side] also. She doesn’t give up that much now. Of course, she’s a strong player. I think she’s a complex player. She has everything.”
Halep has won her last six meetings with the 25-year-old American. Stephens, the reigning US Open champion, is now 0-8 in matches against No. 1-ranked players.
She gave Halep a stiff challenge.
“I thought I played well, I thought she played well,” said Stephens. “Obviously, in a final, you hope for matches like that – super competitive, high energy.
“There’s nothing more than you could hope for in a final. It’s obviously upsetting that I didn’t win, but I think I got better than the last final we played. Yeah, it’s disappointing, but I think this will help me moving forward, getting ready to go into [Cincinnati] and the US Open.”
Halep took the US$519,480 winner’s prize while Stephens won US$252,425.
A large Romanian contingent waving their red, blue and yellow flags chanted Halep’s name between points. However, there were just as many pulling for Stephens in a match of two players who don’t overpower with their serve but hammer groundstrokes down the lines.
A back-and-forth opening set saw Halep jump to a 4-1 lead before Stephens found the range with her forehand and broke service three times to take a 6-5 lead. The American then wasted two set points as Halep forced a tiebreaker.
Stephens went up on two Halep double faults, but the Romanian stormed back to take the set. It was the first set Stephens lost all week.
Stephens added three more breaks to take the second set, but lost her serve to open the third.
She broke back for 2-2, but then suffered a letdown as Halep broke service twice more to take the lead. Stephens fought off three match points for one last service break before Halep closed out.
“I hit some drop shots, which I don’t normally do, because I was too tired,” said Halep, who has reached at least the semi-finals in four straight Rogers Cups.
“I love to play in Canada,” she said. “It’s maybe the best place because so many people are so nice with me.”