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Simona Halep wins on Romanian day in Madrid

 MADRID, May 8: A large number of foreign-born residents of Spain hail from Romania, and this week’s Madrid Open has become a particularly festive celebration of Romanian success.

After four Romanian women reached the quarterfinals, sixth-seeded Simona Halep was the last one standing, winning Saturday evening’s final, 6-2, 6-4, over Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia.

Halep was presented the trophy by Nadia Comaneci, the former gymnast from Romania who this year celebrates the 40th anniversary of her perfect 10 on the uneven bars at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Comaneci had watched the match with Ion Tiriac, the tournament’s Romanian owner.

“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. Actually, it was a great moment that I got the trophy from Nadia. Perfect 10 means a lot,” Halep said.

“This week, I give to myself 9.5. Not yet 10,” she added, laughing.

Two more Romanian players, Horia Tecau and Florin Mergea, will compete on opposite sides of the net in Sunday’s men’s doubles final.

Comaneci, who travelled to Madrid from her home in Oklahoma for the final, said it was “a Romanian day” and drew comparisons between herself and Halep.

“Yes, she’s also very motivated. I think she has more frustrations than me – or maybe she shows them more, and I had them but I kept them inside. I think you learn from every experience, and you become richer – I’m not talking about money – richer in experience, the more you play,” Comaneci said regarding Halep.

Halep broke the 38th-ranked Cibulkova in her opening service game and maintained constant pressure from the baseline throughout the match, striking 20 winners to only 10 unforced errors.

The title is equivalent to Halep’s greatest previous success, in Indian Wells in March 2015. While she had not won a title at any level since then and had generated little momentum this season, the triumph in Madrid put Halep back into the top five.

Halep was the only one of the 16 seeded women who even reached the quarterfinals at the Madrid tournament, making her a clear favourite despite her recent struggles.

“To be honest, nobody told me that you are a favourite to win,” she said. “Maybe that’s why I won.”

The decimated draw in Madrid reflected a tumultuous year in women’s tennis.

Top-ranked Serena Williams has played in only three tournaments this year, and she has not won a title since beating Halep in the final of the Cincinnati Masters event last August. Maria Sharapova, a champion twice and a runner-up once in the past four editions of the French Open, is still serving a provisional suspension after testing positive in January for the newly banned substance meldonium. Victoria Azarenka, whose three titles this year are tied for most in the WTA, pulled out of the Madrid tournament with a lower-back injury.

Halep, the runner-up to Sharapova in Paris in 2014, can be added to the short list of contenders at Roland Garros, which begins this month.

“Now I have confidence. But every match will be different, will be difficult, and I don’t want to think too far,” Halep said. – Agencies

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