“Simonacendency”–The Rise of Halep

Though Simona Halep, Romania’s number one female player, lost to four-time slam winner, Maria Sharapova in the finals of the 2014 French Open today, a potentially brilliant star has risen.

Simona Halep is that shining light and, make no mistake about it, she has arrived.Halep 2

Halep reached the French final to face Sharapova without dropping a set. It was a most impressive run, and after splitting sets, had it not been for one service break in the third (4-6), she would have won her first slam.

Halep’s ascendency is not a fluke. Since 2009, she has consistently progressed in small but noticeable increments.

In 2010 Halep underwent elective breast-reduction surgery. Apparently, at a smallish 5′ 6,” she was rather amply endowed and felt the weight of her bust interfered with abilities essential to producing high-level tennis. She also complained of frequent back pain possibly caused by her breasts.

Her decision to undergo what many might view as a radical procedure, in my eyes, only underscores her commitment to the game. That was a tough and extremely mature decision for a then 17-year-old to make.

Voila! It worked!

Halep’s ranking increased dramatically, over 400 points, in a relatively short time following the surgery.

During this remarkable span, she spent a great deal of time gaining invaluable experience playing qualifying rounds of WTA tour events. Her ranking was at 166 when, as a qualifier, at the Andalucia tournament in Marbella, Spain, she fought her way to the quarters eventually losing to the the number two seed Flavia Pennetta. Pennetta was ranked 16th at the time.

Halep’s steady progression continued. From quallies, she reached the finals of a WTA event for the first time but lost to Iveta Benesova. In the quarters of that event, she defeated former top-ten player Patty Schnyder, a daunting task. Schnyder was always a very crafty player capable of beating anyone on a good day.

Emboldened, Halep qualified for the 2010 French Open but lost first round to Sam Stosur, the 7th seed. She then lost first round at the US Open to Jelena Jankovic, a match she probably should have won when serving for it at 5-4 in the third.

Though she failed to capitalize on that upset opportunity, she did not fail to learn from the experience.

In 2011, Halep lost in the first round of the Estoril Open to Anabel Garrigues in two tiebreaks. Garrigues went on to win the tournament.

Halep then lost to the great Serena Williams in the second round of Wimbledon. It took Williams three sets to secure the victory.

Later that year, at the US Open, playing on an injured ankle, Halep defeated 6th seed, Li Na in the first round. It was her first win over a top-ten player.

The evidence was mounting. Clearly, Halep was on the move.

2012 continued productively and Halep began 2013 at number 47 in the world and the number two ranked Romanian player.

And then it happened. All the hard work began coalescing and Halep broke through. After losing in the semis of the BNL d’Italia to eventual champion, Serena Williams, Halep won two WTA titles in a row. She won her third title of the year at the Budapest Grand Prix.

Halep won six titles during this run with wins over Petra Kvitova, Yvonne Meusburger, Ana Ivanaovic and others along the way. Only Serena Williams won more tournaments in 2013.

I have difficulty categorizing Halep’s play. She’s not strictly a base-liner nor is she a serve/volley player though she can execute when necessary. She’s neither a counter puncher nor an aggressive in-your-face on every shot type.

What Halep shows me is a remarkable ability to adjust to any play scenario that arises. She is very quick off the spot and can get from point A to point B in the blink of an eye, almost freakishly fast at times. She’s strong and agile, can both absorb pace and generate it. She’s got variety and drive.

She’s a little girl with a very big game. She’s able to stay “in the moment” without imploding from nerves. That alone is unusual for a 22-year-old. That calm demeanor looks good on her and should continue to serve her well in tough matches at the elite level.

Simona Halep is currently ranked number three in the world. Surprising to some but not to those who’ve been paying attention.

Myself, I’m thoroughly impressed but not the least bit surprised. You could see it coming, the steady rise in ranking. She’s paid her dues, ground it out, been persistent and dedicated.

She’s done it “the old fashioned way.”

She earned it!







25 thoughts on ““Simonacendency”–The Rise of Halep

  1. Where’s the respect for the champion Maria Sharapova. Halep may have her day in the sun sometime in the future, but we should celebrate a great french open champion in Sharapova as well. To win 4 straight 3 set matches in order to hold the trophy is absolutely remarkable, and a testament to Maria’s amazing will and courage. Talk about player bias.

    • @greenman With respect for your feelings, why does there need to be more written about Sharapova when the vast majority of articles published are already about her. Her story has been being documented since she was a junior at the Bollettieri Academy. Maria this, “Sugarpova” that…Enough already! Thanks for your comment.

      • I’m just saying that it would be nice to read your thoughts on her clay court transformation. This slam win had nothing to do with Maria’s background or business exploits. This slam win had everything to do with her incredible tenacity and fight. Halep is a fine young player and she could well be a future star. But let’s not get carried away. She is a rising star who could win majors, but none of that is guaranteed. But of course this is your site and of course you’ll write whatever you’d like. It’s just opinion after all. I’m probably just more of a sharapova fan than you.

      • @greenman Admittedly, I’m not a Sharapova fan, however I don’t deny she is a very tenacious player and gives her all in every match. That’s admirable, but their are other players who are toiling in obscurity who, in my opinion, deserve recognition for their efforts. Recognizing these players takes nothing away from Sharapova. She is a vastly improved player on clay, having obviously worked towards becoming so. Let’s face it though, Sharapova has been in the right place at the right time (slams minus Serena) to have become a five-time slam winner.
        Thanks for your input and do continue to enjoy being a fan of Maria. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      • I respectfully disagree about your comment that Maria has been in the right place (minus Williams the Younger) to be a 5 time slam champ. She’s a five time champ because she won 7 matches over 2 weeks 5 times in her career. She didn’t play Serena in those slams because Serena herself didn’t make it to those matches. I wouldn’t put an asterix over Maria’s wins because of that, it’s silly and it’s disrespectful to Sharapova’s accomplishments. That’s like saying Federer’s 2009 French is tainted because he didn’t beat Nadal to win it, baloney. Maria is not “lucky” to not play Serena for 4 of her 5 slam titles. Maria just performed better in those slams than Serena did, that’s why she won. Happy days!

      • Martian, you’re a smart man, so I’m surprised that you would make such strangely nonsensical comments. First of all, why is my opinion on the subject of Maria’s slam wins any less “wrong” than yours? Is there a right answer here? I thought this was a debate where two people, in this case you and I, have different opinions. You can disagree with me, I expect you too. But that doesn’t mean my view is any less valid than yours.

        Secondly, you can call me crazy or a lair with what I’m about to say

      • Opps, had a problem there. As I was saying Martin, secondly, you might call me crazy with what I’m about to say: but in my heart of hearts I think Maria Sharapova can and will beat Serena Williams again one day. I’ve believed that for 10 years and counting. That doesn’t mean that I think Maria is the better player. Serena has proven that she is by the lopsided head to head record. Nevertheless, I think Maria is getting closer and closer to beating her nemesis. She has been breaking the Williams serve

      • More consistently over the past few matches that they’ve played. Maria actually led Serena 4-1 in the first set of their Miami semifinal this year, and she went up an early break again in the second set of that match. So I think it’s just a matter of time before Marias breakthrough will come. No doubt that there is a huge mental block there, but if anyone can overcome it the player would be Sharapova. She’s overcome so much worse in her career already.

      • Martian was a typo. Sorry about that.It’s been fun discussing with you, when Maria beats Serena in a slam andIt will be a slam , I’d like to see u write a column on it here. Something to mark the occasion if u will. Perhaps an apology to a great Russian champion? Take care and god bless.

  2. So, greenman, if you’re that a fan of Sharapova you might also have noticed that she won the Roland Garros final by adding to her incredible tenacity and fight you’re mentioning, also some skills only an experienced champion gains over time, like stalling the play, as well as turning her back all the time to her opponent between serves, (let’s almost not mention grunting / shrieking), allowing herself a long dress change break in order to pulverize the momentum Halep was in after the second set, all of it meant for a psychological advantage during the match. Need more reminders? Of course, do not get me wrong, Sharapova still is the great champion, and Halep the rookie at that upper level, but she has given Sharapova as she admitted herself, the toughest grand slam final she has ever played, so this was so damned close. Therefore, many think it’s Halep who’s deserving more attention, as Sharapova has it anyway and everybody is already used to her.

    • If you’re referring to what some people consider “gamesmanship” tactics by Maria, I don’t need reminders. I’m fine with anything she did in on the court. This is a match for a grand slam title. Like Connors, I see such contests as a fight to the death. I expected both women to do whatever to win, that is the nature of competition, it brings out the best and the worst in everyone. If the rules are bent, so be it. It’s up to the umpires to call it if the players go overboard. If they don’t the play goes on. Sometimes it helps a player, sometimes it doesn’t.

      Gamesmanship, if such a thing exists, is part of all sport. On every level, in every game. Always has been, always will be. And don’t tell me that Halep didn’t do some of the same things (stalling the play in the tie-breaker, claiming that the point at 0-15 at 4-4 in the 3rd was out when it was in) to gain an advantage. In the end, it’s about who wins and that’s it. It’s about who finishes first. I’m just glad as a huge Maria fan that it was Sharapova and not Halep who won. But that was a good fight from Simona. I have to give her that.

      • @greenman I do understand your point, even if it is wrong. (haha) What you are right about is that Serena failed to get to those slam finals that Maria inherited. No doubt about that. So, in the sense that Serena blew it earlier in those events, Maria certainly deserves the victory. I wouldn’t put an asterix by her name cause, as you said, she won…bottom line, she won. Now really, you know in your heart of hearts that Maria hasn’t a chance against Serena whenever they meet in a slam. Below is a post from my site, just for fun…it’s all just for fun though probably true.
        Enjoy the discussion. Thanks.

      • @greenman I mean wrong only in my eyes, not the eyes of the world. Just my way of differing with your opinion, thus the “haha” in my note to you.
        Yes, Sharapova has been ahead in several of their encounters but Serena always manages to get the better of it in the end. Can’t dispute that, right?
        Listen, “hope springs eternal,” so don’t give up the ship. I’d say Maria might be able to beat Serena in a tournament other than a slam, but a slam…nope, nope, nopety nope! But keep dreaming my friend, as will Maria. Take care.

        Oh Yeah, “Martian” huh! Clever!! You could be right. At times I feel like I’m from another planet anyway.

  3. I find it somehow odd that most comments to an article depicting some of Simona Halep’s achievements are *still* about Maria Sharapova in a way or another. Masha just happens to be Simona’s last opponent, yet the article is not just about RG final but is essentially focused on Simona’s last 5 years of WTA career. It’s senseless and off-topic to bring in another debate about Maria Sharapova’s skills and achievements: as the author hinted, there are plenty of articles dedicated to Masha where one may feel free to express his/her feelings about her.

    • @mdionis Sharapova does get considerably more press than most other female pros. I suppose the legions of pundits and press types are still smitten with her. I’m hopeful that Halep continues her winning ways. I think she is legit and capable of being a consistent impact top-10er.

      • Maria is getting more press right now because she is a superstar and she is winning. As for Halep, I think she’s a great talent, and already solid in the top ten. The key will be if she can keep it up throughout the rest of this year and into next season when she’ll have much more pressure and points to defend. I think she has potential to be a slam champ, but she needs to prove it to me a few more times first.

  4. Tennis is also about the ethics of movement and silence. Sorry, it’s not kung-fu or karate where the kiai is needed to overcome psychologically your enemy. When Federer plays many in the stands show that logo: “Silence please, genius at work” It has to be changed somehow because it’s not only about protecting a genius and it’s definitely not only about protecting only men. Many women on tour simply didn’t get that! Sharapova included. I miss the sound of the ball, the humming crowds because my years are filled with the frightening roars of those human vuvuzelas…

    Go Halep, expand your decency on and off courts!

    • @Real Martian To a large extent I agree with you, however, being one who plays the game, some sound is made automatically when you strike a ball with force and effort. It’s just the natural expelling of air from the lungs, kinda like when you lift weights exhaling as you push or pull the weight upward, outward etc. and inhaling on the down stroke. But when it comes to some, the shriek is, in my opinion and to my ear, way over the top, to the point of being somewhat distracting.

      Thanks for your observation.

    • Like it or not, the shriek/the grunt is now part of the game. I for one welcome it. I don’t care if the men do it, I don’t care if the women do it. i actually enjoy it. It’s just an added dimension to the game as far as I’m concerned, and it’s something for the silent players to deal with. Hey they can shriek as well if they want too, no one is stopping them. And please don’t whine about gamesmanship. If you want to go down that route then every grunter in tennis history is guilty of it, including Serena Williams, Seles, Sharapova, Nadal, Vika, Nole, Murray, even Federer on occasion.

      • man, you really like to read yourself. Added dimension? What about some farts, too? Sorry, case closed!

    • I’m just a talkative person, if you got to know me. And yes, if a player would fart all day long in a tennis match, it would be brought up by everyone eventually. Not sure if it would add or detract from a match, but it could be mentioned at some point. hahaha.

  5. @greenman. Shut up, enough already. Try to get a job carrying sharapova’s bag or wiping something.

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