Best Match Of Simona Halep’s Life

LONDON, July 15, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

The ladies’ singles final of the 2019 Wimbledon Championships was over in a mere 56 minutes. In a battle among former No. 1 players, a focused and positive Simona Halep played flawlessly against seven-time Wimbledon singles champion Serena Williams. The seventh-seeded Halep won 6-2, 6-2, in what she later described as the “best match of my life,” to capture her first Wimbledon title and second Grand Slam crown.

The native of Constanta, Romania, performed uncommonly well in all facets of her game. Halep’s 83 percent efficiency in winning points on her first serve was remarkable, and so was her tally of just three unforced errors in the 93 points that were played between her and Williams. She became the first woman from Romania – a country without any grass courts – to win Wimbledon.

“I always play well when I have emotions,” said Halep during her post-match news conference. “I don’t try to ignore them or I don’t fight against them. I try to take them as a positive and just trying to control them to the right – to put them in the right way, which I did today. That’s why I was able to do the best match.”

When the championship match was over, it was Halep who proudly – and beaming a big, radiant smile – lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish for all the tennis world to see and admire, not Serena.

The 27-year-old Halep was simply dominant in her rout of Williams, 37, from the United States, who was pursuing her eighth Wimbledon singles title and a 24th major singles trophy, which would tie her with Margaret Court. Williams has not added to her Grand Slam tally since winning the 2017 Australian Open, then taking a year’s sabbatical to start a family.

Throughout Saturday afternoon’s final that was played before 15,000 Centre Court spectators, including the Duchess of Cambridge and Duchess of Sussex and other tennis royalty (past Wimbledon champions Martina Navratilova, Virginia Wade, Conchita Martinez and Marion Bartoli), Halep’s agile physical movement about the court – chasing down nearly every ball that Williams hit at her in all directions – and just as importantly, her mental fortitude, something which she had worked hard upon improving, were solid if not outstanding. Few if any saw what happened coming: Williams surrendering key points with plenty of quick, unforced errors.

After the 11th-seeded Williams hit one final forehand that crashed into the net, bringing this much anticipated grass-court match to its conclusion, Halep dropped to her knees in a state of disbelief that soon turned to joy and happiness. She glanced up at her box for approval and to share the triumphant moment with her parents and coaches.

“I’m very sure that was the best match of my life,” said Halep. “On grass against (Serena) is never easy. So, I’m really proud of my game of today and the whole tournament.

“I’m happy about what I achieved these two weeks. I can’t describe how I feel winning Wimbledon. It’s pretty special.”

Halep was asked by a reporter if she had to think a lot or was she able to shut her mind off and let her body take over. After all, Williams had beaten Halep nine of the previous 10 times they met. She said, “Well, I thought about the match, but I didn’t think at all against who I play.

“I always been intimidated a little bit when I faced Serena. She’s an inspiration for everyone and the model for everyone.

“Today, I decided before the match that I’m going to focus on myself and on the final of Grand Slam, not on her. That’s why I was able to play my best, to be relaxed, and to be able to be positive and confident against her.”

During her post-match press conference, Williams, who hasn’t been on the losing side of too many Grand Slam finals during her storied career – but has lost her last three since returning from maternity leave – took her defeat in stride. “When someone plays lights out, there’s really not much you can do. You just have to understand that that was their day today,” she said.

“I just have to keep going, keep trying, keep working.”

Williams said she will play a couple of WTA Premier hard court tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati to prepare for another run at the U.S. Open next month, with an eye toward another chance at trying to tie the record.

“I feel like I’m still incredibly competitive,” she said, “or else I wouldn’t really be out here. For the most part, I feel like I’m on the right track.

“I’m just going in the right direction in terms of getting back to where I need to be.”

For now, though, the moment of glory belongs to Halep.

Both during the trophy ceremony on Centre Court as well as during her post-match interviews, the somewhat shy and introverted Halep gave props to her current coach Daniel Dobre and to her former coach, Darren Cahill. “I have a good team,” she said. “I have good people around me. I really thank them.

“(Daniel)” is very emotional. I like that. He’s a good person. We talked after the match just a little bit, not tennis. He said that it was unbelievable how I could win this match.

“Of course, Darren is part of this. I talk with him all the time. He came to see my match again today. His heart is with us. Made me a little bit stronger today, honestly, to be able to believe that I have the chance to win.”

Halep, who will move up to No. 4 in the new WTA rankings, admitted she never thought that she could win on grass, especially against players like Williams who serve with a lot of power.

“But this year, as I said every day, I started to feel the game more and more. I started to feel safe on court, which helped me a lot to believe.

“I feel that I’m at the highest level … but I’m feeling also that I can improve some things, not about today’s match.”

On this memorable July afternoon, it was Halep who brought magic to the tennis court.

By the numbers

• Simona Halep has played in five Grand Slam finals and won two of them. Her first title came at the 2018 French Open on clay and her second at the 2019 Wimbledon Championships on grass. She has now won majors on two of three surfaces. On hard courts, her best finish at the Australian Open was reaching the 2018 final, and at the U.S. Open it was advancing to the 2015 semifinals. She has bowed in the first round of the U.S. Open in each of the past two years.

• Saturday’s 6-2, 6-2 loss by Serena Williams was her most lopsided defeat in her 32 Grand Slam finals, dating from 1999.

• In her three Grand Slam final defeats since returning from maternity leave, Serena Williams has not won a set. She lost the 2018 Wimbledon final to Angelique Kerber, 6-3, 6-3; lost the 2018 U.S. Open final to Naomi Osaka, 6-2, 6-4; and lost the 2019 Wimbledon final to Simona Halep, 6-2, 6-2.

What they’re saying

Martina Navratilova, Hall of Fame great who won nine Wimbledon singles titles and 18 Grand Slam singles crowns, speaking on the BBC: “It’s essential for Serena to play more matches. You can play your way to finals but the lack of fitness shows up. Heavy is the head that wears the crown – the older you get the harder it is to get over those nerves.

“I was 20 days younger (when I played my last final) than Serena. I’ve never been as nervous in my life, just going for my last one. It gets more difficult. Honestly, when I got onto court, I didn’t know if I could get my racket out of the bag. Because I knew it was my last chance and it just means so much. You appreciate where you’ve been … and yeah. Nerves get in the way.”

What they’re writing

• Simon Briggs, Daily Telegraph tennis correspondent, from “Simona Halep stuns Wimbledon with emphatic victory over Serena Williams in women’s final”:

“Saturday’s women’s final occupied just 56 minutes. So was this an underwhelming return on tickets that started at £185 per seat? You might think so – but only if you weren’t there.

“In fact, it was a privilege to be on Centre Court to watch Simona Halep – a dedicated and enormously likable athlete – deliver the performance of her life. In 93 points, she hit only three unforced errors, and you could argue whether the third of those – an unreturned second serve – should even count. It was the cleanest match played in a Wimbledon final since IBM started cataloguing these statistics in 1998.”

• Liz Clarke, Washington Post sports writer, from “Best match of my life”:

“For Serena Williams, history will have to wait.

“Playing for one of the few records in tennis history that she doesn’t own outright – a 24th Grand Slam title that would equal Margaret Court’s mark that has stood since 1973 – Williams was undone by a slew of unforced errors in Saturday’s Wimbledon final and fell to Romania’s reinvented Simona Halep, 6-2, 6-2.”

• Kurt Streeter, New York Times tennis correspondent, from “Halep Crashes the Serena Show”:

“It has been 16 months since Serena Williams embarked on her comeback after giving birth, and 10 months since she ignited a firestorm over race and women’s right after a heated dispute with an umpire while losing in the final of the United States Open.

“At 37 now, Williams has confronted age and injury and questions over her place in today’s game as a crowd of young players has risen and threatened to take the sport by storm. All this must have been uncomfortable for Williams, even though, with 23 Grand Slam singles trophies, her legacy is secure and her stature as a global celebrity and a cultural force is unquestioned.”

Steve Tignor, tennis writer, “Whatever Serena did, Halep had the answer. Yes, she ran everything down, and only made three unforced errors, but she also forced Serena to hit from uncomfortable positions, over and over again. She defended offensively, and made hitting on the dead run look easy. Halep, who spent the majority of her Friday practice hitting returns, read Serena’s serve well and held her to just two aces.”