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Halep defeats Mertens to win Prague title

World number two Simona Halep said she will reveal on Monday whether she will play at the U.S. Open.

Speaking after her triumph over Elise Mertens in the Prague Open final, the 28-year-old Romanian said “she just needed her time” to make a decision.

Halep was playing her first event since coronavirus pandemic shut down tennis in March, picking up where she left off six months ago when she won the title in Dubai.

After some rusty performances during the week, Halep found her groove to win 6-2 7-5 and said she was encouraged by her form and the health protocols put in place in Prague.

“We felt really safe here and all the rules were respected,” she told reporters. “It’s a bit stressful but the fact that everyone was good these 10 days means everything was done well.”

Halep had struggled past Polona Hercog in her first match of the week and was also far from her best versus Barbora Krejcikova and compatriot Irina-Camelia Begu. But apart from some understandable fatigue, she looked far more like herself versus Belgian Mertens, winning in one hour 33 minutes to earn her 21st career WTA trophy.

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Mertens blazed into a 2-0 lead with a flurry of winners, but Halep found her range from the baseline responded by reeling off seven successive games to take control.

Halep did not have things all her own way though and was broken back early in the second set as Mertens again went on the attack. A wobbly service game permitted Halep to move a break ahead again in the fifth game, although Mertens retaliated again to level the second set at 4-4.

Halep broke to lead 6-5 though and finished it off with a heavy forehand.

“Second set I was 4-2 up but dead and felt very tired,” she said. “But today, mentally I was really strong which allowed me to win in two sets.”

With world number one Ash Barty and 2019 U.S. Open champion Rafael Nadal, as well as a host of other top players, already deciding against playing at Flushing Meadows, organizers will be hoping Halep says yes.

Halep has appeared reluctant to make the trip to the U.S., which is still in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, but said this week she needed to see what “changes” the organizers would make in terms of “travelling and stuff”.

The U.S. has around 5.5 million cases of COVID-19 and almost 172,000 people have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Concerns remain whether players would face mandatory quarantine if they travel to Europe from the U.S. for claycourt events in September, although Halep said she now believed that players would not need to quarantine. U.S. Open organizers are creating a bio-secure bubble in New York with tough protocols to hold the tournament from Aug. 31 without fans.

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