INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Simona Halep beat Jelena Jankovic 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 to win the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday, giving the Romanian the biggest title of her career and a WTA Tour-leading third tournament victory of 2015.
Halep improved to 6-0 in three-set matches this year, smacking a cross-court forehand winner off Jankovic's weak volley return on match point. The world's third-ranked player advanced to the final when Serena Williams withdrew before their semifinal because of a sprained right knee.
"The first set was strange for me because I didn't play for three days. It's really tough to go straight to the finals," said Halep, who hadn't played since Wednesday.
Halep continues her rise in the sport, having broken into the top 10 a year ago and being a finalist at the French Open and semifinalist at Wimbledon last year. The 23-year-old Romanian reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open in January.
"I have another title, my biggest title now, so it's amazing," she said.
Jankovic won her biggest career title at Indian Wells in 2010. She was seeking her first tournament victory since 2013 at Bogota but couldn't hold a lead. She was up a set and a break in the second set only to have Halep win two straight games and tie it 3-all.
Jankovic broke for a 5-4 lead on a smash and was two points from victory on her serve in the next game, but Halep won the final three games of the set.
"At the end of the second set I got a little bit nervous," Jankovic said. "I got a little bit tentative, and that was my big mistake. I let her come back into the match. I kind of let those nerves take the best out of me. That shouldn't happen."
Both players struggled to hold serve in the third set, when there were seven breaks. The 2½-hour match had 18 service breaks in all.
"I don't know how I won today because I didn't play my best," Halep said.
Halep had a trainer work on her feet to start the second set. At times, she bent over and rested on court.
"I was tired a little bit and I had blisters only, so it's not that bad," she said. "But still it's bothering you during the match, during the running. In the end of the second set I had muscle problems. But I didn't think about anything. I just wanted to fight and to get to win every ball. Just this was in my mind."
Jankovic committed 61 unforced errors and had nine double-faults, smiling wryly after her last one gave Halep match point. Jankovic fell to 5-1 in three-set matches this year.
"Her biggest quality is that she's a big fighter," Jankovic said. "She's not going to give you any free points."
Ranked 21st coming into Indian Wells, Jankovic rallied from deficits in four of her five matches en route to the final. The 30-year-old Serb had her best result this year after failing to get out of the second round in four previous tournaments.
"I have gone through so much with injuries, with my back. I have torn a muscle," Jankovic said. "I just could not put myself together and just do my job and just enjoy playing tennis. And then here I was, playing and battling with the No. 3 player in the world and I really had a chance to win."
Halep earned $900,400 and Jankovic $439,420.
"For sure I will get a gift for myself," Halep said.