Credits: Simona Halep © Ph. Getty Image – WTA
Simona Halep began 2018 at No.1 and eight months into a WTA season that continues to put its depth of talent on display, the 26-year-old Romanian continues to reach new heights to solidify her position as the best player in the world.
En route to her grueling run to her third title of the season at the Coupe Rogers in Montreal, Halep became the first player to qualify for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. This is the fifth consecutive year Halep has qualified for Singapore, making her the only player who will have qualified for the WTA Finals in each of the five years it’s been hosted in Singapore.
“In 2014, after I qualified my brother told me if you do five years of Singapore, then you can retire,” Halep said with a laugh on the WTA Insider Podcast. “I said yeah, if that’s the case! But now, being in this position I will say no. I will not retire because I feel so well on court and I enjoy a lot these moments.
“My first WTA Finals was here in Singapore so it’s really special. To qualify again, it’s amazing.”
Halep’s 2018 season will most likely be remembered for her emotional and resilient run to her maiden Slam at Roland Garros, where she defeated Angelique Kerber, Garbiñe Muguruza, and Sloane Stephens in back-to-back-to-back matches to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in her fourth major final. While her French Open breakthrough may be the high-note of her season, what Halep’s full body of work through the first eight months of the season has been just as impressive.
Halep’s efficiency in 2018 has been astounding. She is the first to qualify for Singapore while playing just 11 tournaments so far, the fewest of any Top 20 player aside from Serena Williams. She has made the semifinals or better at 7 of her 11 tournaments, winning three titles (Shenzhen, Roland Garros, Montreal), and she is the only player to make two Slam finals so far this season (Australian Open, Roland Garros). And despite playing a disciplined schedule, Halep leads the tour in overall match-wins (42-7), the most hardcourt wins (24-3), and the most three-set wins (15-3).
Heading into 2018, the question surrounding Halep was how she would respond to the weight of the No.1 ranking, especially after she spent much of 2017 falling just short of grabbing it. But if there’s one overarching theme of Halep’s career so far, it has been her refusal to settle. Time and time again, she has proven her resiliency, refusing to accept anything less than what she wants. Halep’s perseverance paid off last fall at the China Open and she finished the season as the 13th player to finish the year as the WTA World No.1. The No.1 ranking may have been a heavy weight for other players, but for Halep it served as a buoy.
“For me it was not something negative, for me it was a positive thing,” Halep said. “The fact that I was able to reach this place means I am able to continue on this way. So the pressure was off all the time. Of course it was tough to get it. I failed three or four times, so maybe with that experience now I think different.
“They asked me yesterday if I lost my motivation after the French Open. I was like come on, I won only one. I don’t have 20 Grand Slams to lose my motivation.
“It’s like a bomb of good energy and bomb of desire that I want more. I feel that.”
Nothing has come easy for Halep this season, a fact that was foreshadowed at the Australian Open in January. Coming into the tournament fit and firing, Halep somehow overcame an ankle injury in her first match, saved multiple match points in two separate matches, and played the longest WTA match of the season to make her first Australian Open final, only to lose in three dramatic sets to Caroline Wozniacki. It was an effort that landed Halep in the hospital for dehydration but earned her a wave of respect amongst her peers and confidence in her ability to break through the pain barrier.
In other words, Simona Halep learned she was capable of so much more.
“I think I’ve improved in everything,” Halep said. “Physically I’m stronger. I think the serve is a bit better. My forehand is stronger. I can do much more with it. With the backhand, normally I want just to finish some points. I think everywhere I improved a little bit.
“I feel like I’m a stronger player in all the ways this year.”
Strength – in body and mind – has been the key to Halep’s continued ability to unlock new levels in her game. Of the 10 longest matches of the season so far, Halep has featured in two of them – vs. Lauren Davis, Australian Open, 3 hours and 44 minutes, and vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Montreal, 3 hours and 7 minutes – coming out on the winning side of both.
And her run to her second Montreal title was arguably one of the toughest title-runs of the season so far. Halep not only posted the second-longest average time of match of any title winner this season (115 minutes), her average rank of opponent en route to the title was 13, the lowest of any tournament champion this season.
“I feel like my life is really nice and beautiful,” Halep said. “I have only positive people around me. I feel it helps me to stay healthy and to stay with energy to play tournaments. I take care of my body. My priority is tennis in my life so I do everything just to be good for this sport. I think this is the secret to be consistent. Maybe other things also, but hard work is the most important thing.”
WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen