A year ago I was saying that Simona Halep probably lost the best opportunity she’ll ever get to both leap to the top of the WTA rankings and win her first Grand Slam title. But a few months later she did become the number one, admittedly thanks to Serena Williams clearing the way and allowing the others to fight for that spot, and only briefly lost that position since then, for a few weeks following the lost Australian Open final, so that left the matter of that first Grand Slam title… Until today.
She did seem to be the favorite against Sloane Stephens before the match, but considering Stephens’ form and the similarities in playing style between her and Ostapenko, there were good reasons for concern. And those concerns definitely appeared justified as the match progressed, Stephens winning a first set perhaps even more clearly than the single break shows, and then breaking Simona’s serve again right at the start of the second set as well. And Simona was playing excellently, still putting up an outstanding defense but showing that she learned from the past failures as well and not in the least letting the defense be her only weapon of choice anymore, so it really was a matter of Stephens being even better… Until she started to tire.
Once Simona took that break back, the match turned, and she quickly followed it with a second. Stephens did break back to tie the score again, 4-4, but that was the last time she threatened, Simona Halep’s better endurance, and possibly also her stronger determination, deciding the outcome from then on, the match ending 3-6 6-4 6-1 after Simona actually led 5-0 in the final set. It’s entirely possible that she would have won that set 6-0 if she wouldn’t have been overwhelmed by the magnitude of the achievement ahead of her. And the statistics actually show that she even had more winners than her opponent, definitely proving that she learned from those past failures, the one from a year ago in particular.
So, again, I’m pleased to have been proven wrong by her on both counts. Or perhaps not exactly proven wrong, since it may still be that it’d have been easier to win a year ago, but pleased that she has now achieved both goals, leading the WTA rankings and winning a Grand Slam title, and in fact winning that title while being, and remaining, the number one. The fact that I care does strike me as rather odd, and difficult to justify, mainly to myself, since it’s not like I have any particular reason to be interested in her results other than the fact that we happened to be born between the same lines more or less arbitrarily drawn on a map at some point in the past, and I’m completely against any shred of nationalism or anything else based on the perceived relevance of something like this, but tennis is a sport I enjoy watching to some extent, if mainly just for Grand Slam tournaments, in recent years perhaps mostly just for Roland Garros and Australian Open, and as her results improved I did start to care. So, again, for whatever reason, I am pleased that this happened, and that maybe it’ll be enough to finally silence her critics, at least for a while. And may it be a sign of more to come.