Halep powers to world No. 1

Simona Halep of Romania celebrates after being presented with a bouquet in the shape of the No. 1, after taking the top ranking by winning her women’s singles semifinal match against Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia at the China Open Tennis Tournament in Beijing Saturday. — AFP

BEIJING — Simona Halep will take over as No. 1 in the WTA world rankings after progressing to the China Open final with a dominant 6-2, 6-4 victory over Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko here Saturday.

Halep will face unseeded Caroline Garcia in the final Sunday after the Frenchwoman beat 12th seed Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic 6-3, 7-5 in the second semifinal.

The Romanian avenged this year’s French Open final defeat by Ostapenko, which cost Halep the chance to top the rankings in June, with a ruthless all-round display in which she hit five aces and 14 winners to oust the Latvian in 75 minutes.

The 26-year-old takes over top spot from Spaniard Garbine Muguruza and will become the first Romanian to head the WTA rankings when the updated standings are released Monday.

“It’s very emotional, I think it’s the first time I cried on court,” Halep said. “It’s amazing that I could do this. My team, everyone at home... is watching, and I want to thank everyone. It’s my special day.”

Ostapenko produced a lackluster performance and recorded 32 unforced errors as she failed to make any inroads on her opponent’s solid defense. Halep also broke the 20-year-old’s serve four times, including in the first game of the match.

The Latvian showed some resistance in the second set to forge a 4-3 lead but Halep won three consecutive games to seal victory.

WTA CEO Steve Simon and tour president Micky Lawler presented Halep, who had come close to topping the rankings on three different occasions this year, with a memento to mark her achievement.

Wuhan Open champion Garcia raced to her 10th consecutive win to climb into the world’s top 10 as an error-strewn Kvitova recorded 11 double faults and won just 10 of 27 second serves.

The 23-year-old took a 3-0 lead in the first set to pile the pressure on Kvitova, who failed to make a comeback and lost the set.

Twice Wimbledon champion Kvitova started the second set strongly to gain a 2-0 advantage but her wayward serving cost her as Garcia leveled at 5-5 before clinching the match.

Garcia is on course to win her second consecutive title but Halep has beaten her in both their previous meetings.

World No. 1 Rafa Nadal beat Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 in the semifinals to reach his ninth final of the year.

The 16-time Grand Slam winner will take on Australian Nick Kyrgios in Sunday's final as the eighth seed progressed to his first final of the season after beating German second seed Alexander Zverev 6-3, 7-5 in the last four.

The top-seeded Spaniard took control from the start, winning 13 consecutive points on his own serve and breaking Dimitrov to seal the first set in 35 minutes.

Nadal led the second 3-1 but world No. 8 Dimitrov fought back to level at 4-4 before clinching the set.

Bulgarian Dimitrov's eye-catching shots were not enough to overcome the 31-year-old, however, and Nadal broke serve three times in the deciding set.

Kyrgios dominated the first set and the hard-hitting Australian served seven aces in the second to frustrate 20-year-old Zverev who was favorite to progress after sealing his spot in the ATP Finals Friday.

Nadal will be gunning for his sixth title of the season but faces a tough challenge against world No. 19 Kyrgios who has beaten him twice in their four previous meetings. — Agencies