By Angel Krasimirov
SOFIA Nov 3 Romanian Simona Halep battled back to beat former U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur 2-6 6-2 6-2 in a thrilling Tournament of Champions final on Sunday and capture her sixth title of the year.
Winning the season-ending WTA event at the Armeets Arena in Sofia earned the 22-year-old Romanian a cheque for $270,000 and lifted her three places in the world rankings to a career-high 11th.
Australian Stosur began her 19th WTA final confidently and took the opening set with ease, surrendering just five points in the first four games as Halep struggled with a very low first-serve percentage.
But Halep, an aggressive baseliner, stepped up her game and broke three times in a row to win the second set with hard-hitting Stosur, the oldest player in the tournament, losing her rhythm.
Stosur, who had looked in blistering form in the semi-finals where she humbled Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, continued to rely on powerful kick serves in the third set but Halep broke decisively in the 21st game and got the upper hand, winning the next three games.
Halep, who also beat Stosur in the Kremlin Cup final last month, wore down the 29-year-old with booming forehands into an open court after pushing her out wide with a number of clever shots.
"I had some problems with my leg (thigh) but I wanted so much to win here and it's great that I did it," said Halep. "It was an incredible week for me."
After a mediocre start to the year, Halep caught fire in June, winning titles at Nurnberg, Den Bosch and Budapest, then adding crowns at New Haven and Moscow.
Halep's triumph was cheered by hundreds of Romanian fans, including former world number one Ilie Nastase and the Balkan country's sports minister Nicolae Banicioiu, who made the 370-km trip to the Bulgarian capital.
"It was unbelievable to see so many Romanians in the hall," said Halep. "I'm really happy for that, I wish to thank them and especially Ilie Nastase for coming here to support me."
"It was a tough match today," said Stosur. "She's a very good player, she beat me in Moscow and she did it again.
"Now I'll take a break for a few weeks and then I'll start to prepare for the next season."
It was the second time the Tournament of Champions was held in Sofia, having been relocated from Bali where it was staged between 2010 and 2012.
The $750,000-tournament featured the six highest-ranked players who have won at least one International Series title during the year and did not qualify for the more lucrative WTA Championships. (Reporting by Angel Krasimirov, editing by Pritha Sarkar)