The National Bank Open, formerly Rogers Cup

Halep Rallies to Beat Pegula, Reaches Fourth NBO Final; Pegula reaches doubles final with gauff

August 13, 2022
Simona Halep shouts in celebration.

Photo : Peter Power/Tennis Canada

By Max Gao

No. 15 seed and two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep reached her fourth National Bank Open final on Saturday afternoon, rallying past No. 7 seed Jessica Pegula, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

In Sunday’s showpiece, Halep, a two-time winner in Montreal in 2016 and 2018 and former finalist in Toronto in 2015, will face the winner of the match between Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia and No. 14 seed Karolina Pliskova. This is the former World No. 1’s first final since winning the Melbourne 250 event at the start of this year—and her biggest since winning Rome in 2020.

A day after surviving her biggest test of the tournament against American rising star Coco Gauff, Halep was looking to get off to a strong start in her first tour meeting with Pegula, who is currently sitting at a career-high ranking of No. 7 in the world. But the Romanian struggled to find her range on her serve and groundstrokes early on; she hit two double faults in the first game and her third double fault handed an early 2-1 lead to Pegula.

The American, using the angles of the court and her flat groundstrokes to move Halep laterally behind the baseline, fended off three break points in the following game to consolidate her advantage and then proceeded to break once more after Halep double faulted again on break point. From there, Pegula continued to remain solid off the ground and frequently came to the net to finish the points, sealing the first set in 35 minutes with an ace.

After a short break between sets, Halep changed her tactics, stepping more inside the court to hit her groundstrokes and pushing Pegula behind the baseline with more spin. She saved two break points with some stunning defence to start the set and exchanged a few breaks with the American before she was able to consolidate her advantage to take a 4-1 lead.

The turning point in the match came at 4-2 in the second set, when Halep saved four break points in a drawn-out seventh game before going on to serve out the set. While Halep began to find her rhythm, Pegula began to grow increasingly erratic, converting just 1 of her 7 break points in the second set.

With one set left to decide the first finalist, Halep and Pegula traded a pair of breaks to start the decider. Halep soon found herself under pressure, trailing 1-2, 0-40, but in one of the biggest momentum swings of the match, she mounted a spirited comeback with her signature defensive skills, saving four break points en route to holding for 2-all.

After breaking at love a game later, the two-time former champion held and broke once more to lead 5-2. And while she wasn’t able to serve out the match the first time around, the Romanian made no mistake at the second time of asking, sealing the win after two hours and 12 minutes.

Later in the afternoon, Pegula returned to the court with Gauff to play doubles on Centre Court. The all-American pairing, who reached the final of the French Open and won the Qatar TotalEnergies Open earlier this year, edged out Madison Keys and Sania Mirza, 7-5, 7-5, to move into the final in Toronto. Gauff, at 18 years old, is now one win away from becoming the new World No. 1 in doubles, and Pegula is already guaranteed to make her Top 10 debut in doubles next week.

Gauff and Pegula raced out of the gates, using their combination of power and precision to break in the second game. But after Keys and Mirza converted their third break point in the seventh game to get back on serve, the Americans were forced to hold their ground, holding serve to keep the pressure on their counterparts and eventually breaking in the 12th game to wrap up the opening set.

Keys and Mirza got off to a stronger start in the second, breaking in the first game and managing to hold that advantage for most of the set, until Keys attempted to serve out the set at 5-4. After missing two break points at 3-1, Keys and Mirza were made to rue their missed opportunities as Gauff and Pegula broke back to stay in the set. The No. 3 seeds carried this momentum into the tail end of the match, breaking once more to advance to their third final of the year together.