The 2020 Prague Open will culminate in a final between top seed Simona Halep and third seed Elise Mertens, with both women aiming to win their first title on the WTA Tour since the resumption of tennis last week following a five-month suspension.
The quality of tennis has been high on the clay courts of the Czech capital the past few days with both Halep and Mertens facing tough encounters on their way to the final, which will be held in front of a reduced crowd due to coronavirus restrictions.
It will be the second time that the two have faced off in a tour final, with Mertens completing a sensational run to the title in Doha last year by beating the Romanian from a set down to win the biggest title of her career. However, Halep has won their other three meetings in straight sets, including two wins on clay and their last meeting in the fourth round of the Australian Open back in January.
The winner will claim 280 ranking points and $25,000 in prize money whilst the runner-up will claim 180 ranking points and $14,000 in prize money. Halep is aiming for her 21st career title, whilst it will be a sixth title for Mertens if she prevails.
Road to the Final
Halep was meant to restart in Palermo last week but eventually decided to withdraw due to coronavirus fears, and overcame Polona Hercog in a third-set tiebreak in her first match in five months in the opening round here. The top seed had another tough match following that as she came from a set down to beat wildcard Barbara Krejicova, though then strolled past Magdalena Frech to reach the last four. She was a break down in the opening set to compatriot Irina-Camelia Begu in her semifinal, though rallied to prevail in straight sets to reach the final.
Choosing to play in Palermo, Mertens came into Prague following a fairly heavy defeat in the opening round of that tournament. The Belgian scraped past Jasmine Paolini in the opening round though then impressed with a convincing win against Camila Giorgi, before coming through a tough three-setter against wildcard Eugenie Bouchard to set up a semifinal against former finalist Krystina Pliskova. The third seed was drawn into another tight match against the Czech, though prevailed in two tight sets to reach a seventh career singles final.
Both women are very comfortable on clay though it is clearly Halep who is most confident on the surface, being a former French Open champion. The Romanian has thrived on the surface in recent years by adding more power and aggression to her game and will look to dictate play throughout, particularly on her strong backhand wing. Mertens isn’t as frequently aggressive as the Romanian is which may put her at a disadvantage though the Belgian is a confident server and will look to use this well to try and claim some easy points. She will also hope to take advantage of any opportunities that she gets when Halep is serving; the world number two’s serve can prove a weakness on some occasions.
Movement may also be a key factor in this match. Mertens is one of the top doubles players on the WTA Tour and evidently is very good at reading the game. The Belgian will look to extend rallies to gain more traction in them, and may also look to move towards the net if possible and show her volleyings skills. Her opponent, however, is widely considered one of the best movers in tennis. Halep will likely face little trouble in staying in rallies, and could easily frustrate Mertens.
It will also be interesting to see if fatigue plays any factor in this match. Both have faced tough matches on their way to the final and it is more than possible that, after such a long layoff, there could be some tiredness or strain for both. If the match goes to a third set it will be interesting to see is the most fresh of the two late on.
Having a final between two of the top three seeds is undoubtedly a huge boost for the tournament, and will certainly attract a lot of interest through all corners. Mertens has had a great week and certainly knows how to beat Halep in a final, though the Romanian came into the tournament as the favorite to win the title and should be able to justify that tomorrow afternoon.
Prediction: Simona Halep in straight sets