In-form Garcia stuns new No. 1 Halep to capture China Open title

AFP
Caroline Garcia of France wins her second consecutive WTA title by defeating soon-to-be-No. 1 Simona Halep 6-4, 7-6 (3) in the China Open final in Beijing.
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Reuters

Caroline Garcia kisses the trophy after winning the China Open women's final against Simona Halep of Romania in Beijing on October 8, 2017. The unseeded Frenchwoman beat the new world No. 1 6-4, 7-6 (3).

Unseeded Caroline Garcia of France won her second title in as many weeks as she stunned new world No. 1 Simona Halep in the closely-fought final of the China Open in Beijing on Sunday.

Garcia is in the form of her life and edged out the Romanian second seed 6-4, 7-6 (3) to add the China Open to the Wuhan Open title she lifted last weekend, making it five WTA crowns in all.

Garcia's feat was all the more remarkable because she was carrying a leg injury that has required frequent on-court treatment and completed a mammoth three-set quarterfinal win well past midnight on Friday evening.

The 23-year-old, who is set to rise from No. 15 to 9 in the world, sank to her knees on the hardcourt when she finally sealed victory in the second-set tie break.

"I was like, seriously, this really happened?" Garcia said afterwards, asked what was in her mind when she slumped to her knees.

"It was such an amazing two weeks, it went so fast, I have the feeling I started these tournaments yesterday or two days ago.

"To play every single day, it was just after every match you had to forget about what happened and be on the present again.

"Even this morning I couldn't believe I was in the final."

With rain teeming down outside ahead of what turned out to be a cracker, a leak in the Diamond Court stadium roof had threatened to dampen proceedings.

But that was soon fixed and there was little between the two players until Garcia broke Halep in the 10th game to grab the first set.

The 26-year-old Halep had the superior mobility — Garcia had her right thigh strapped — but the French player was making the better shots.

One forehand winner was greeted with gasps from the mostly full arena in Beijing.

The second set was even more competitive and the attritional seventh game turned out to be a turning point.

Garcia was 0-40 down on her own serve until dragging it to 40-40 and then saving half a dozen break points before somehow winning the game to go 4-3 up.

The duo raced into the tie break, but Garcia now had the momentum and she held her nerve to make it a Wuhan-Beijing double.

Pinching herself

Garcia said she was still pinching herself.

"It's just amazing, it's difficult to put words on what I'm feeling right now," she said.

The Frenchwoman became the first to complete the Wuhan and Beijing double and is now on track to qualify for the season-ending WTA Finals, as her win took her past Briton Johanna Konta to No. 8 in the Race to Singapore rankings.

Despite her disappointment Halep — thanks to reaching the final — will officially become world No. 1 for the first time when the latest rankings are out this week.  She secured the top spot on Saturday with her semifinal victory over French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

Halep's record at finals this year is underwhelming, with the 26-year-old winning just one of her five finals so far — the Madrid Open in May.

Meanwhile, Maria Sharapova's stop-start comeback from a 15-month doping ban takes her to the northern Chinese city of Tianjin this week and a tough draw against Garcia.

The five-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 from Russia has been paired with top seed Garcia in her opener at the Tianjin Open, where she was granted a wildcard.

Sharapova, now ranked a lowly 104 in the world, could hardly have a harder opponent.

Also taking part in Tianjin, which is near the Chinese capital, is the two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.

But as usual, most focus will be on the 30-year-old Sharapova, who has struggled for top form and fitness since returning to tennis in April following her suspension for taking the banned substance meldonium.

She fell in the third round at the China Open to Halep.

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