Simona Halep thanked under-fire Fed Cup coach Ilie Nastase after defending her Madrid Open title by edging out Kristina Mladenovic on Saturday in a thrilling near three-hour final 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-2.
The Romanian, who rises to fourth in the world rankings with victory, was congratulated on court by Nastase as she received the trophy.
Nastase has been banned from the French Open and Wimbledon after he was ejected from Romania’s Fed Cup clash with Great Britain last month for a series of foul-mouthed rants directed at British captain Anne Keothavong and number one Johanna Konta.
However, the former world number one was part of the delegation on hand to present the trophy named after his former Davis Cup partner and Madrid Open owner Ion Tiriac.
“Ille thank you for coming, you are supporting me all match,” said Halep.
Nastase’s presence threatens to overshadow a high quality match in which Mladenovic played a huge part.
The Frenchwoman had won three of the pair’s four previous meetings, including most recently meeting in Indian Wells back in March.
And it was Mladenovic who made the perfect start in a topsy-turvy opening set by jumping out to a 2-0 lead.
However, Halep responded to break back in a marathon game as it took nearly half an hour for the score just to reach 2-2.
Mladenovic broke once more to lead 5-3, but couldn’t close out the set as Halep battled back to take the last four games and a one-set lead.
The second set was just as intense as after an exchange of early breaks, serve was dominant all the way to a tie-break.
An incredible drop shot from Mladenovic opened up two set points at 6-4 and she evened the match with a booming forehand down the line.
Halep had received a warning during the tie-break for kicking her raquet in the direction of a ball boy in frustration.
However, she composed herself for the start of the deciding set and was the dominant player throughout.
Mladenovic saved break points in her opening service game, but couldn’t repeat the trick when faced with two more as Halep broke for a 2-1 lead.
And Halep completely broke Mladenovic’s spirit in another marathon 14-point game for a 5-2 lead before serving out for the championship to love.