LONDON, July 12, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Simona Halep and Serena Williams are the only two players who have achieved a major final in each of the last three WTA seasons, a testament to their consistency.
On Saturday at the Wimbledon Championships, they will meet on Centre Court at two o’clock sharp in a Grand Slam final for the first time.
While seven-time champion Williams will be playing in her 11 Wimbledon ladies singles final and trying to win her eighth title – and 24th Grand Slam singles crown, which would tie Margaret Court’s long-established record – it will be the first time for the Halep, who has one major title, to play for the Venus Rosewater Dish. She’s the first Romanian woman to reach the Wimbledon final.
“It’s very special, this moment,” remarked Halep during her post-match press conference on Thursday afternoon. “To be able to play Wimbledon final, it’s pretty amazing. I will enjoy it for sure.”
The No. 11 seed Williams from the United States defeated unseeded – and overmatched – Barbora Strycova of Czech Republic, 6-1, 6-2, to march into her second straight Wimbledon grass-court final. Meanwhile, Halep advanced to her fifth career Grand Slam final with an overwhelming 6-1, 6-3 semifinal win over No. 8 seed Elina Svitolina. It left the Ukrainian scratching her head, but afterward she gave due props to the No. 7 seed Halep during her news conference.
“I think she played unbelievable today. She was moving really good, striking the ball perfectly,” said Svitolina.
“It’s little bit of me making poor decisions in some important moments, and then her playing unbelievable which made the score like that.”
For Halep, who was playing her first Wimbledon semifinal since 2014, she’s taking advantage of her experience. Over the fortnight, she’s shown that she’s in a good place both mentally and physically.
“Here this week, I realized that I have a good chance on grass because I have strong legs, I can open the court. The court works for me if I play the right tactic,” she said.
“I play some drop shots, I use the slice more, the serve is helping me. Now, when the ball is coming to me, I know what to do with it.”
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) 12. Juli 2019
Looking back on her semifinal win over Svitolina, which evened their career head-to-head record at 4-4, Halep said, “(Svitolina) was really strong. She didn’t give up a point. The rallies were very long and very powerful, as well. It was really tough to stay there. But I knew that I was actually prepared against her to fight for every ball. I played many times against her, and I knew that she doesn’t let the rhythm low.
“I had to be there, I had to be strong. Today, I think it was, again, one of the best matches on grass.”
After winning two hard-fought and lengthy games (each about nine minutes) at the start of the match, Halep came on strong at the end and lost just one point on her serve in the second set. She hit 26 winners and converted five of eight break-point opportunities by combining her athletic talent with her ability to win consistently from both her forehand and backhand sides.
When Halep was asked during her news conference after beating Svitolina if she’s a better player than she was since reaching her first Wimbledon semifinal in 2014, she commented, “I can say that I have a better game in these days. I can play everywhere, against anyone. It’s good that I have more plans. When I go on court and face an opponent, I know how to play against her.
“Also, I know how to change some things when (they don’t) work very well. As a person, I’m trying just to be confident, to be positive. I’m working hard to do the best always when I step on the court.”
Halep-Williams by the numbers
Saturday’s final will the the 11th head-to-head meeting between Halep and Williams. Serena has won nine of the first 10 meetings between the two former No. 1 players.
“I think it’s a great feeling to face Serena in a Grand Slam final,” said Halep, the 2018 French Open champion, on Thursday. “If you are able to win, makes it sweeter. If you lose, then you have to look forward for the next one.”
Williams remembers the one time Halep beat her. It was a 6-0, 6-2 WTA Finals victory that came back in 2014, “I think the biggest key with our matches is the loss that I had. I never forgot it,” she said. “She played unbelievable. That makes me know that level she played at, she can get there again. So I have to be better than that.”
Looking ahead, Halep said, “I’m in good position, honestly. I have no pressure on myself, just positive one. I have expectations for myself that I can do a great job on court Saturday.”