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Svitolina lays down French Open marker in Rome


Rome (AFP)

Elina Svitolina underlined her status as a top favourite for the French Open by sweeping Simona Halep aside 6-0, 6-4 to successfully defend her Italian Open crown on Sunday.

In a repeat of last year's final at the Foro Italico, Ukrainian Svitolina, seeded fourth, was up against Halep a day after the Romanian top seed had ousted Russian Maria Sharapova.

But Halep's hopes of overturning last year's defeat to her 23-year-old opponent quickly evaporated in a completely one-sided encounter that saw the Romanian fail to produce a real challenge.

Svitolina, the world number four, has now successfully defended three career titles, in Baku, Dubai and also Rome; she also won in Brisbane and Dubai this season to take her 2018 title total to three.

The win also marked Svitolina's 12th career title on what was her eighth final in succession.

"It was a really good match, from my side," Svitolina said. "I dominated. I was trying to put lots of pressure on Simona with my game, tried to really take the ball early and open the court.

"It's amazing that I could do this here a second time and defend. This is something very, very special."

The French Open at Roland Garros starts next Sunday, and Svitolina added: "Roland Garros is still a week away, but this gives me confidence.

"Last year, it was the first time for me going into the Grand Slam as a favourite. This year, it's different, I was hoping I was one of the favourites.

"I'm going to take it as a challenge. It's very important to take one match at a time, just go out there and enjoy playing on the big courts, atmosphere.

"Roland Garros is what we are training for. And I'm gonna give it the best shot."

Halep, who was broken four times and lost the opening set in 19 minutes, did not win a game until the start of the second, 24 minutes in.

The world number one saved match point before bowing out after 67 minutes.

"I was a little bit too stiff with my body. I couldn't stay in the rallies, and I missed a lot," Halep, who was treated off court for a reported back injury midway through the second set, said.

"She was solid. She is solid every time I play her. She deserved to win, for sure.

"I want to go (to Roland Garros), to be ready, to feel good, and to win the first round. Because always the first round is the toughest.

"Women's tennis has changed and every tournament is open. Everyone has a chance to win, even a Grand Slam," said Halep, who lost the 2017 French Open final to Jelena Ostapenko.

Thanks to reaching the final in Rome Halep will take the top seeding for Roland Garros.

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