It only makes sense that Simona Halep would have to go three sets to win her first BNP Paribas Open title.
Overcoming an apparent foot injury, a faulty serve and a former champion, Halep rallied from a set down to defeat 2010 winner Jelena Jankovic 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 in a gutsy performance.
“I don't know how I won today because I didn't play my best,” said a beaming Halep. “I didn't play good tennis, but I just wanted to fight till the end because I think that is the most important thing for my style, for myself.”
Halep had a grueling run to the finals, needing to go three sets to beat Daria Gavrilova in the second round, Varvara Lepchenko in the third round and Carla Suarez Navarro in the quarterfinals. She did appear to get a break in the semifinal when No. 1 Serena Williams withdrew because of a knee injury.
But Halep struggled with a left toe injury and had the trainer look at it before the second set. Several times in the second set, Halep would be bent over with her hands on her knees, apparently trying to deal with pain.
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Afterwards, Halep brushed off questions about any physical problems and said she has every intention of playing the next tournament in Miami.
“I was tired a little bit and I had blisters only, so it's not that bad,” Halep said. “But still it's bothering you during the match, during the running. In the second set, I think in the end of the second set I had muscle problems. I don't remember very well.
“But I didn't think about anything. I just wanted to fight and to get like to win every ball. Just this was in my mind.”
Things didn’t look like it would get any better as Halep would trail 3-1 early in the second.
Then the serve was a whole different problem. Halep was broken nine times during the match. Jankovic struggled just as much, getting broken nine times herself. After the first set, it was more of a matter of who would be able to hold her serve to have the edge.
“I kind of let those nerves take the best out of me. That shouldn't happen,” Jankovic said. “My arm was super heavy. I could not even lift it.
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“It's just I could not hit through the shot. I'm human. I was so excited to win and to kind of do it all. To be the champion once again like I did in 2010. Unfortunately it didn't happen, and that's it.”
Although Jankovic lost her serve, she didn’t lose her sense of humor.
“If I just could call (6-foot-11 ATP star Ivo) Karlovic to serve two serves, that would do the job,” Jankovic joked. “I guess I didn't have that Karlovic serve in me when it mattered.”
While Jankovic was bothered by her problems with her serve, Halep wasn’t bothered by the few times she held serve.
Watch Halep Hot Shot
“The women's is not like real important, the serve,” Halep said. “We have much better for the returns. I am much better, I can say. Yeah, at the beginning of the match, first set was strange for me because I didn't play for three days a match. It's really tough to go straight to the finals.”
Despite the loss, it was a remarkable tournament for Jankovic, who was wondering if she could even compete at the BNP Paribas Open. Hobbled by a torn leg muscle, Jankovic said all she could do to prepare was hit in a standing position as she couldn’t move.
But once Jankovic got to Indian Wells, she got healthier and she played better and better.
Jankovic had a little luck on her side as her half of the draw opened up with numerous upsets.
She saw teenager Belinda Bencic upset No. 4 Caroline Wozniacki, the fourth seed, in the third round. And qualifier Lesia Tsurenko upset No. 6 Genie Bouchard in the fourth round, and Sabine Lisicki upset defending champion Flavia Pennetta a day after she beat No. 2 Maria Sharapova.
The only Top 25 player Jankovic had to beat on the way to the finals was No. 18 Madison Keys, who was seeded 16 in the tournament.
When Jankovic won the title in 2010, she beat four consecutive Top 30 players in straight sets to claim her first BNP Paribas Open title.