Simona Halep Closer Than Ever To First Grand Slam
Simona Halep was in a familiar position when she watched Caroline Wozniacki lift the Australian Open trophy in Rod Laver Arena on Saturday. But this felt different to the Romanian and to the millions watching her compete because it was clear to see she had improved since her last Grand Slam final loss at the 2017 French Open.
Halep said, ‘I think was different with everything. I played better. I didn’t move as I wanted because I couldn’t. But the game was okay. The mental part was okay. So I think I have improved a lot this tournament. I’m leaving Australia with many good thoughts and many positive things because what I’ve done these two weeks I never did in the past.’
Unlike in Paris last June, when the Romanian was the favourite for the title and lost from 6-4 3-0 up against Jelena Ostapenko in the final, Halep arguably achieved more than anyone expected her to after a tumultuous first round match. During her 7-6 6-1 win over Destanee Aiava, the World No.2 slipped and felt her ankle twist sideways. It looked very painful on the slow-motion replays.
The extent of Halep’s injury is still unknown, but it definitely affected her in the end. As WTA Tennis reports, ‘her right foot plantar fascia began to flare up as the tournament went on, undoubtedly due to compensation for her left ankle injury’. It also caused the Romanian a sleepless night before her epic 4-6 6-4 15-13 win over Lauren Davis in the Third Round. As reported by The Telegraph, she ‘had pain everywhere’.
Despite the injury and the 224 gruelling minutes it took her to defeat Davis, Halep powered past both Naomi Osaka and Karolina Pliskova by the same score – 6-3 6-2 – to set up a semi-final clash with Angelique Kerber. During her high-quality match against the 2016 Australian Open champion, the Romanian showed her new-found mental strength to save match point and win, as she did against Davis three rounds earlier. It felt like a huge step forward.
Along with her mental improvements, Halep also demonstrated she can be more aggressive with her shot selection during the tournament. This enabled her to dictate opponents like never before, something which was particularly impressive to see in action against big-hitting World No.5 Pliskova. Then the Romanian arguably attacked even more spectacularly against Kerber as she blasted 50 winners.
Ultimately, Halep’s body let her down in the final. She had given everything to get to that stage and there is no worse opponent to face than Caroline Wozniacki when you are exhausted. The Dane is the fittest player on the WTA tour and can chase down more balls than anyone else. Normally, Halep would be almost as energetic as she is also a fantastic mover, but this time the Romanian was tired before the match started and the new World No.1 took advantage.
Although she lost a Grand Slam final for the third time in her career, Halep was closer than ever to winning the major title she craves, and it seems only a matter of time before she achieves her aim. It could even happen as soon as June, as her next opportunity will be on her beloved clay at the French Open. When she was asked if she was proud of what she achieved in Melbourne, Halep replied, ‘Yeah, I am. I did 100% what I could today. That’s why I can say that I’m not sad for that. I’m sad that I lost the match, I was not the winner. But life goes on. For sure in the future, if I keep working like this and I keep playing like this, I will be in a good position again.’