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.
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!