Simona Halep breaks out to beat Jelena Jankovic in Indian Wells final

Novak Djokovic repeats as BNP Paribas Open champion with a three-set victory over Roger Federer

At the cradle of tennis, they celebrate Breakfast at Wimbledon. Sunday, at the BNP Paribas Open, they established a similar catchphrase.

Break-fest at Indian Wells.

Simona Halep, a 23-year-old from Romania, won the women's singles title in a match that threatened to go into Monday. As the clocked ticked to 2 hours 37 minutes, Halep closed in on a short ball from Jelena Jankovic of Serbia and slapped a winning forehand on match point.

The made the final score 2-6, 7-5, 6-4. Depending on your point of view, the match either set new highs for back-and-forth drama in the sport or set women's tennis back five years.

They played 30 games in the match, and there were 18 breaks of serve. There were 30 break points contested. Halep won nine of her 14, Jankovic nine of 16. In the final set, Halep had four converted break points in four tries and Jankovic three in four.

The serve is supposed to be a weapon in tennis. In this one, it appeared to be a detriment.

Halep rationalized about that.

"In the end, I think it was like we were tight," she said. "We could not serve very strong. The women's is not like real important, the serve, you know."

Jankovic had been up a set and a service break in the second set. Then she tightened up, later admitting to unraveling a bit, even choking. She ended up with nine double faults.

She won here in 2010 and has always been among the more honest and forthright players on a tour that doesn't always excel at that.

"I was holding my serve fine until the end of the second set," she said. "Since then, I wasn't able to hold it. It's unbelievable what I did."

She was within two points of winning the match at 5-4 in the second set.

"I needed, you know, if I could just call Karlovic to serve two serves," she said, laughing with her reference to huge-serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic, who has occasionally helped her with her serve.

Later, she elaborated on her serving failures.

"I got nerves," she said. "My arm was super heavy. I could not even lift it. . . . I don't know if you guys know, if you play sports and you sometimes get nervous. This is what happens. The arm wouldn't go up."

For Halep, this was the biggest victory of her career. She is ranked No. 3 in the world, Jankovic No. 21.

Halep's best previous moment was as a finalist last year at the French Open, where she lost to Maria Sharapova. Jankovic, who just turned 30, was a finalist in the 2008 U.S. Open, where she lost to Serena Williams.

Jankovic actually played at Indian Wells as far back as 2001, as a 16-year-old wild-card entry. Later, she built a home in Rancho Santa Fe near San Diego.

"I was No. 1 junior in the world," she said, "and I won the Australian juniors. I came here and I was like a kid in a candy store. . . ."

With her victory, Halep became the first player on the WTA tour to win three events this year.

Despite the victory and the $900,400 prize money, she sounded more relieved than triumphant afterward.

"I don't know how I won today," she said, "because I didn't play my best. I didn't play like good tennis, but I just wanted to fight to the end."

Halep made it to the final when her semifinal opponent, the top-ranked Williams, defaulted because of a knee injury Friday night.

Notes

Sunday's attendance was 16,988. The main stadium seats 16,100, so that meant that 888 people bought grounds passes to be on the scene and watch on the big screen TV. There were no matches on the outer courts. This year's total attendance was a record 456,672, an increase of 24,145 from last year. The Indian Wells tournament is closing in on attendance at the French Open, the lightest-attended Grand Slam tournament. The French drew 462,384 last year.

bill.dwyre@LATimes.com

Twitter: @DwyreLATimes

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