Simona Halep beats Kristina Mladenovic to retain Madrid Open title

Simona Halep and Kristina Mladenovic
Halep had lost three of her previous four matches against Mladenovic

Romanian third seed Simona Halep retained her Madrid Open title with a three-set win over France's Kristina Mladenovic in a gripping final.

Halep, playing her third Madrid final in four years, held off a Mladenovic fightback to win 7-5 6-7 (5-7) 6-2.

Mladenovic, seeded 17th, forced a deciding set despite appearing to struggle with a back injury.

Halep's frustration was clear when she kicked her racquet into the path of a ball boy and received a code violation.

However, the world number eight came through to clinch victory after two hours and 43 minutes.

She has now won 22 of her last 25 matches on clay and will head into the French Open later this month as one of the favourites for the title.

"I feel great that I could defend this title," said Halep, who will move up to fourth in the new rankings.

"It means a lot because it's very big and gives me confidence for the bigger tournaments.

"I feel that actually I have the game to win big tournaments. I have just to be consistent mentally. I started pretty bad this year. Now I'm back with the confidence."

Mladenovic confirmed that she had played with "some pain", but added: "Honestly, we had an amazing final, and I don't want to put any comments on my lower back saying that was the reason why I couldn't make it until the end and win that match."

In the doubles final, Martina Hingis and Chan Yung-Jan beat Timea Babos and Andrea Hlavackova 6-4 6-3.

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