Halep, Cahill Partnership Enjoyed Fantastic Success

Simona Halep

WASHINGTON, September 23, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Simona Halep is arguably the most famous and popular athlete in Romania – the biggest sports star in her home country – and she’s a WTA popular fan favorite, too. So, anytime something good or bad happens to her, it reverberates – not only at home but throughout the tennis world.

Wednesday was one of those instances.

That’s because Halep, who made headlines a week ago when she married billionaire Romanian businessman Toni Iuruc in a civil ceremony in her hometown of Constanta, revealed on her social media platforms that she had decided to part ways with her coach, Darren Cahill. Their professional, working relationship would be no more.

“Thank you D for everything, for making me a better tennis player and a better person,” Halep wrote.

Halep and Cahill were together on and off for six years – and theirs was one of the most successful relationships between player and coach. It was Cahill, 55, from Adelaide, Australia – always a firm-but-fair communicator and listener plus a positive influence in her box – who helped Halep reach No. 1 in the WTA Rankings and inspired her to win the 2018 French Open. They paired together in the summer of 2015, after Halep bowed in the early rounds of both the French Open and Wimbledon.

Cahill has enjoyed successful tenures with other players. In 2001, he guided Lleyton Hewitt to become the youngest player to be ranked World No. 1 on the ATP Tour, and coached Andre Agassi, who became the oldest player to be ranked World No. 1 in 2003. He’s also spent time mentoring Andy Murray, Ana Ivanovic, Fernando Verdasco, Daniela Hantuchová and Sorana Cirstea.

Although it’s not the first time Halep and Cahill have split – Cahill left after the 2018 year so he could spend more time at home in Australia with his family – this time there appears to be closure between Halep, who turns 30 next week, and the likable Aussie, who also works as a tennis commentator and analyst for ESPN.

Under Cahill’s tutelage, Halep became the World No. 1 player in singles twice between 2017 and 2019, for a total of 64 weeks, which ranks 11th in WTA rankings history. She was the year-end No. 1 in 2017 and 2018. From 2014 through earlier this year, she was ranked in the Top 10 for 373 consecutive weeks, the eighth-longest streak in WTA history. She reached three Grand Slam finals with Cahill as her coach, culminated by winning the 2018 French Open. It was Halep’s first major title.

Then, during Cahill’s gap year, Halep began 2019 without a coach although they corresponded with each other. Eventually, that spring she hired Romanian Daniel Dobre and he coached the Romanian during her run in winning the 2019 Wimbledon Championships crown, beating 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, 6-2, 6-2, in a 55-minute one-sided final.

“Of course, Darren is part of this,” Halep said after she won Wimbledon. “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.”

In an interview with ESPN as Halep walked off the court, she said of Cahill, who was sitting behind her box during the Wimbledon final: “His support helped me win today. I’m a better person because of him.”

Late in 2019, Halep announced Cahill’s return and the began working together again at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen. Then, last year, due to the coronavirus pandemic coupled with injuries that sidelined her both in 2020 and during this season, Halep and Cahill have been largely apart. Australia’s strict quarantine rules made it challenging to say the least.

Halep and Cahill were reunited during the North American hard court swing, in Montreal and at Mason, Ohio, and later at the US Open earlier this month, during which she advanced to the Round of 16 with wins over Camila Giorgi, Kristina Kucova and Elena Rybakina before losing to Elina Svitolina, 6-3, 6-3.

This season, the 14th-ranked Halep has compiled a 15-9 win-loss record. She reached the quarterfinals in her first two tournaments of 2021, at the Gippsland Trophy and Australian Open in Melbourne. Her best result this season was a semifinal finish on clay at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart.

Halep is undecided on a new coach.

Laver Cup: A different kind of ball game

In advance of this weekend’s Laver Cup competition in Boston, Mass., members of both teams have been taking advantage of getting out to experience some of the culture of the 24th-most populous city in the United States. Boston is one of the oldest municipalities in the United States, founded in 1630 by Puritan settlers.

Team World coach John McEnroe paid a visit this week to one of Boston’s historic sporting landmarks, Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox, and brought the Laver Cup trophy along for the trip.

Meanwhile, Team Europe members Stefanos Tsitsipas and Feliciano Lopez went to Harvard Business School to experience a day in the life of a Harvard student, and Team World’s John Isner saw up close and personal the famous bronze “Make Way for Ducklings” statues in Boston Common. The statues, which were installed in 1987, were inspired by Robert McCloskey’s well-known children’s picture book. Isner also posed for photos at the famous Cheers restaurant on Beacon Street.

Osaka pulls out of next month’s BNP Paribas Open

Naomi Osaka, whose 2018 BNP Paribas Open title was her big breakthrough and became a stepping stone toward winning a first major at the US Open later that year, announced she’s pulled out of this year’s tournament at Indian Wells.

The BNP Paribas Open, an ATP/WTA combined 1000 event runs Oct. 6-17 in the California palm desert.

Osaka, whose last match was a 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4 third-round loss to US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez on September 3, is ranked eighth in the current WTA singles rankings and resides in seventh place in the Porsche Race to Shenzhen standings.

During Osaka’s final US Open press conference, her parting comment was: “Basically, I feel like I’m kind of at this point where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do, and I honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match (tearing up). Sorry. Okay, yeah. I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while.”

The only big event that’s left on Osaka’s possible 2021 schedule is the WTA year-end championships, which last week were moved from Shenzhen, China to Guadalajara, Mexico due to coronavirus concerns. The top eight singles players in the Porsche Race to Shenzhen standings qualify.

Passing shots

• It’s always a good sign when a player who has just lost a title match rebounds in their next outting and wins. Such was the case in the first two matches at the WTA 500 J&T Banka Ostrava Open in Ostrava, Czech Republic on Wednesday afternoon. Both Alison Riske of the United States and Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko, who on Sunday lost in the finals at Portoroz and Luxembourg, respectively, won their first-round matches inside Ostravar Arena to advance to Thursday’s second round.

First the 38th-ranked Riske held on to beat 86th-ranked qualifier Fiona Ferro of France, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4, to set up a second-round match against No. 43 Jil Teichmann of Switzerland. Then, the 2017 French Open champion Ostapenko hit 25 winners, converted six of 10 break points and powered her way through the last eight straight games against 100th-ranked lucky loser Anna Blinkova of Russia to win 6-4, 6-0. It advanced her to face No. 4 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece.

The 30th-ranked Ostapenko, who received a wild card into the Ostrava main draw, was satisfied with her performance. During an on-court interview, she said: “The second set was a really good level for me. First set, I was dragging a little bit, but it’s normal; it was my first match here. I had a tough week last week playing in the final in Luxembourg. I’m really happy I could get used to the court and find my level in the second set.”

• Great Britain’s Andy Murray reached his first ATP Tour quarterfinal in nearly two years after he beat No. 66 Vasek Pospisil 0f Canada, 6-3, 6-3, in an hour and 24 minutes at the Moselle Open in Metz, France, Wednesday evening. The 113th-ranked Murray broke Pospisil’s serve four times and outpointed the Canadian 59-41. On Friday, Murray will face either World No. 13 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, who is the top seed, or No. 142 Lucas Pouille of France.

Happy Birthday, Sabine Lisicki

By the numbers

No. 29 Anett Kontaveit of Estonia won her 19th hard-court match of the season with her 6-3, 6-4 second-round victory over No. 27 Paula Badosa of Spain at the J&T Bank Ostrava Open Wednesday evening. The win advanced Kontaveit to her sixth quarterfinal of 2021. On Friday, she will play either No. 3 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland or No. 37 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain.

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