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Happy 30th Birthday, Simona Halep
After all she's accomplished, it's incredible to think the Romanian is only just exiting her twenties.
Published Sep 27, 2021
Most people who turn 30 have only started to begin their life journey. But it’s all been quite different for Simona Halep, who has reached that mark today. By this stage of her life, she has had a great many remarkable experiences – including appearances in five Grand Slam singles finals, 64 weeks as the world’s number one ranked player (including two year-end finishes at the top), a bout with COVID-19, and, most recently, marriage this past September 15 to Macedonian businessman Toni Luruc. “It’s great for the country to have a current great athlete,” said Halep’s friend and fellow Romanian, the legendary gymnast, Nadia Comaneci. “Me and Ilie [Nastase] are part of the past, but Simona is current.”
Thoroughly dedicated to the sport, Halep competes with exceptional intensity. But the challenge for this passionate Romanian has been to manage the line between focus and anger. Many times, a Halep match has seen her wrestle with two opponents: the one across the net and the one that can rage inside her head and heart. Even she knows this. “My problem is that I’m negative,” Halep once said. “I come from Romania. Romanians are a little bit negative in thinking. Everyone knows that. That’s normal here.”
Halep’s five Grand Slam singles finals reveal much. There first came a superb effort at Roland Garros in 2014. An underdog versus multiple Slam champion Maria Sharapova, Halep fought valiantly over the course of three hours and two minutes before losing 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4. “I’m really happy I could stay very long time on court,” Halep said following the match.
Three years later, she again reached the finals in Paris. But while it was one thing to lose nobly to a veteran like Sharapova, in this case, Halep went through a painful, rollercoaster-like experience. Favored versus 47th-ranked Jelena Ostapenko, Halep led 6-4, 3-0, only to be taken into a third set – where she took a 3-1 lead, only to lose five straight games. “It’s a tough day, of course,” said Halep, “because I couldn’t win but let’s keep working and let’s believe.”
Frustration only increased eight months later when Halep once again lost a three-set Grand Slam singles final. On this occasion, the opponent was a peer, Caroline Wozniacki–a player who, like Halep had been number one in the world and also lost her only two prior major singles finals. But despite serving at 4-3 in the third set, Halep was unable to close out the match. “I can still smile,” said Halep. “It’s fine. I cried, but now I'm smiling. It’s just a tennis match in the end. I'm really sad I couldn't win it. I was close again.”
Through these tough moments, Halep persevered, working hard to sharpen not just how she hit the ball, but how she competed and stayed positive in tight moments. “She would have been a great tumbler,” said Comaneci. “Just great on the floor and very quick.”
Invariably, perhaps even logically, having lost the first three major finals she played in dramatic fashion, Halep’s breakthrough moment did not come easily. Naturally, it happened at Roland Garros, where she’d won the junior title in ‘08 and lost those two three-set finals in ’14 and ’17. One year following the loss to Ostapenko, Halep came up against a razor-sharp Sloane Stephens. Stephens at the time was proving herself excellent at high-stakes occasions. In her first Grand Slam singles final, the 2017 US Open, she’d easily beaten Madison Keys. And in the spring of ’18, she’d won the near-Slam, the Miami Open. Versus Halep, Stephens began the match in thorough control, winning the first set 6-3 and going up a break early in the second.
But at that point, Halep found a new gear. From 2-2 in the second, she won nine of the next eleven games to go up 5-0 in the third, eventually closing it out, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. “Last year I was a little bit defensive when I was leading the match, and now I just change it in my mind,” Halep said. “I said that I have to hit the balls. I have to move and not thinking about the last game. Just every ball, every point.”
A year later came an even more remarkable effort. This one took place at Wimbledon. Advancing to the final with the loss of a but single set, Halep faced the mighty Serena Williams, a seven-time Wimbledon singles champion. It would have been logical for Halep to be intimidated by the combination of competing on tennis’ most iconic versus a player of Williams’ stature. But on this occasion, Halep was exceptionally relaxed. Hardly missing a ball, in 56 minutes she won the match, 6-2, 6-2.
"It feels good," said Halep. "I wanted this badly. When I started the tournament, I talked to the people from the locker room that my dream is to become a member here. So today it's real and I'm really happy."
“She really played out of her mind,” said Williams. “Whenever a player plays that amazing you just have to take your hat off and give her a nod.”
In the manner of Comaneci, Halep’s effort that day was unquestionably a “10.” Here’s hoping of tennis’ most accomplished players of recent times has many more such happy moments. She’s earned them.