Melbourne Summer Set: Halep, Anisimova crowned champions

  • Dan Imhoff

Simona Halep has fine-tuned her Australian Open preparations in style, continuing her resurgence after an injury-afflicted season to lift her first trophy in 15 months at Melbourne Park on Sunday.

Displaying the type of grit and consistency which has taken her to two majors and the world No.1 ranking, the Romanian made the more aggressive Veronika Kudermetova pay for too many mistakes in a 6-2 6-3 victory in the Melbourne Summer Set 1 final.

Earlier, with Halep’s former coach Australian Darren Cahill part of her team, Amanda Anisimova clinched her first title since April 2019 with a hard-fought 7-5 1-6 6-4 triumph over Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the Summer Set 2 final.

In her 40th tour final, the 30-year-old Halep bagged her 23rd career title and afterwards paid tribute to Cahill, who stayed on to watch her final from the stands.

“It’s always a pleasure to have another speech on this beautiful court… To my team, of course, thank you very much for being next to me. It's not easy to work with me, I know that. Let's keep winning because I like this feeling,” Halep said. 

“Australia is part of my heart, many times I've said that. I saw Darren up on the screen. I'd like to thank him for coming to watch me. He's not my coach anymore but he's like my family, so it's always a pleasure to come here and I feel like I'm part of Australia.

“I know we have tough times (during the Covid pandemic) but we feel safe here and it's great to be more relaxed and to have these conditions to play before the Australian Open.”

The loss consigned the 31st-ranked Kudermetova to her ninth straight against top-20 opponents and saw her record in finals slip to 1-2, following her maiden title in Charleston and a runner-up showing in Abu Dhabi last year.

While rusty on serve in her two-hour, 35-minute battle with sixth seed Viktoria Golubic in the quarterfinals, it was a notably improved Halep who turned out in the semifinals to counter the power of Chinese qualifier Zheng Qinwen. 

On Sunday, it was more of the reinvigorated and consistent Halep in the opening set. 

Despite falling behind the early break, she reeled off five straight games to land the first set on Kudermetova’s 18th unforced error.

Fired up, the Russian channelled her frustrations into a break via a backhand winner to open the second set, but her momentum was short-lived.

Halep showed great wheels to run down a string of deliveries she looked to have had no right to salvage on her way to a 4-3 hold and her patience was rewarded with the crucial break.

She served out victory at the 74-minute mark for her 18th win from her past 22 matches.

Meanwhile, in a third WTA final for both women, Anisimova also put behind a difficult year as she wrapped up her second title, following her maiden triumph in Bogota in 2019.

The 20-year-old – whose ranking dropped as low as world No.86 in August from the cusp of the top 20 two years ago – needed two hours and eight minutes to hold out 107th-ranked qualifier Sasnovich on Rod Laver Arena.

The American won three matches in succession just once last year – in Montreal – but has already won her first five of 2022.

“Tennis can be a difficult journey at times but I'm so blessed and grateful to have the people in my life that I have. They put a smile on my face every single day,” Anisimova said.

“I'm in such a good headspace now, even after an incredibly tough year, so it's just so good to start off the year in a good place and winning a title.

"I couldn't ask for anything more, so I'm just happy that all my work has paid off… I'm just super grateful.”

Having recently added Halep’s former coach, Australian Darren Cahill, to her team, Anisimova has enjoyed her strongest showing in an Australian Open lead-up.

She snapped a 14-match losing streak against top-30 players against third seed Daria Kasatkina in the semifinals before arguably her grittiest victory of the week against the 27-year-old Sasnovich, a match in which she finished with 33 winners, eight more than her opponent, and two more unforced errors at 33.

It was the third time Sasnovich had made a deep run as a qualifier in Australia as she continued her pursuit of a maiden tour title.

In 2018, she won seven straight matches to reach the Brisbane International decider and a year later, five straight matches to make the Sydney International semifinals.

“Like my dad says always, ‘if not today, next time’,” Sasnovich said. “I love Australia. It's the best place for me in the world, but after my country, sorry.”