Approximately five months ago, I said that Simona Halep would never win a Grand Slam. More to my delight than my dismay, I was proven wrong after she finally won one last week at the French Open. However, she didn’t just win this tournament by chance –she has improved so much since her previous failures, just proving that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
When I originally made the prediction, many people were questioning her mental strength. At that time, the Romanian was infamous among tennis fans for her struggles to finish off matches. Sometimes, she even gave up on matches after blowing a heavy lead. This was clearly exampled in Paris last year, when she blew a 6-4 3-0 40-30 advantage over Jelena Ostapenko. Others struggle,s included losing to Johanna Konta three times despite being two points away from winning each time, and squandering a substantial lead in the Rome 2017 final against Elina Svitolina.
Today, she is a different person, after she admitted that tennis isn’t just about the winning and losing anymore. Who was once a player who constantly choked matches, now has managed to close out a Grand Slam 6-1 in the final set without difficulties; who before would give up after trailing in a match, now has managed to recover from a 3-6 0-2 deficit to win easily. It’s clear that her previous losses have improved her mental game and this has allowed her to subsequently win a Slam.
Before, the 26-year-old was a very passive player. She was known for her speed, anticipation and ability to fight. Despite her fighting spirit, that particular playing style never helped her. Whenever the time came to finish off a match, her passiveness just shone through. This allowed players back into the match by letting them hit winners against her, while she was hoping for unforced errors from her opponent. It’s clear that this style of play can never win you Slams–even Caroline Wozniacki had to learn that lesson. In the 2017 final, she was waiting for errors from Ostapenko and did nothing to try to rule the match, allowing the Latvian back in.
Last week, Halep finally showcased her aggressive style. After playing a set of reasonably unassertive tennis, and to no avail, everything changed. It seemed to me, and almost the whole world, that she had blown her chance once again. Then, she managed turn the match around by completing changing her tactics. Instead of waiting for Stephens to hit errors, we witnessed the Romanian moving her opponent around and winning points at the net. If I had been told this a year ago, I would not have believed it; Halep rarely ever used to approach the net. This shows her intentions to dictate matches now, instead of just waiting.
Though my prediction before was disastrously wrong, I’m certain that this new and improved Halep could be the new ruler of the WTA tour. Five years to ten years ago, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, and Maria Sharapova were the main stars of the tour. However, more recently women have been plagued with inconsistency, meaning no one has been the main star. Because of her win, Halep will have new found confidence, something which she lacked before. I believe this confidence will carry her to even more success. This will include numerous more slams and being the player to beat for the coming years.
We’ve always known that Halep had the weapons to be a Grand Slam champion. Despite this, her previous missed opportunities made me believe that she would always be close but would never make it. Her win over Sloane Stephens has proved that she isn’t just a pusher and can actually boss matches, which will push her to even newer heights in the future.