Simona Halep: Dictating Terms, Her way

MADRID, May 13, 2019 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)

Simona Halep has been the World No. 1, fought past injuries, self-doubts and tough opponents to win the seemingly elusive Major. And yet, she continues to be underestimated. Moreover, some of her victories still evoke surprise instead of acceptance about her calibre spanning tournaments, one after another. One of which was the Mutua Madrid Open that concluded this past week.

In the Spanish capital, Halep made a strong return after her brief absence from the Tour – which included skipping the Stuttgart Open – following a hip injury. Yet, she was relegated to the sidelines despite being a two-time former champion, and all attention was riveted upon Petra Kvitová and Naomi Osaka. Objectively, it made sense that these players had a lot going for them in the draw, with the Czech zeroing down on the career-high, no. 1 ranking and Osaka trying to widen the gap between her rival and her as the incumbent World No. 1.

However, it did not matter until Halep reached the final in Madrid that she, too, was in the fray to reclaim the top spot. And in the final, too, Kiki Bertens – deserving in her performance – quickly became the focal point of the match while the Romanian ended up being the second-best on the day. In more ways than one.

As the attention shifts onto the Italian Open in Rome, favourites’ preferences have realigned all over again. But the 2018 French Open champion has lost out even before she has had a chance to begin her campaign.

All of these could be considered griping. And for any other player, these would have been contentious bones to pick. Yet, Halep has remained impervious to all such overtly-subtle biases and has shown what she is capable of with an indefatigable litany of results peppered on the Tour. From this perspective, she served a reminder at the Madrid Open final that injury was the cause of her missteps. But she was not yet done aspiring and still aimed at going back to being the best in the world.

Beyond the last week in isolation, making such telling statements has been the world no. 2’s forte. Even when she ran pillar-to-post trying to secure an endorsement deal with Adidas who did not meet her terms when her four-year contract with them ended in December 2017. The 27-year-old played the 2018 Australian Open – and made it to the final while noticeably hobbling with an ankle injury – donning non-branded apparel bought off the internet. It was a testimony to Halep’s mental fortitude. That run also promptly brought forth a deal with Nike, which also meant evasion of embarrassment for tennis’ usual clothing-line industry.

On Monday, 13th May, Halep began her 277th straight week in the WTA top-10 rankings since her debut there in 2014. It seems like a while ago and, yet, the time-lapse has remained, where it was back then. Maybe, this is also why Halep lets her game do the talking for her – and leaving it all out on the court – as if knowing it would not only speak louder and clearer but also linger long enough for everyone to take notice of what she represents as a player. To keep her within their reckoning, whether of their own volition or not.