Romanian pocket dynamo Simona Halep, the Women’s Singles Champion at Wimbledon 2019, is an aggressive counter-puncher, who plays from the baseline, and covers the court with a fluidity rarely seen in women’s tennis. She works very hard on her fitness and her game. Apart from the blood, sweat and tears that she obviously puts into her game, there was another factor that proved to be the tipping point in her journey to the WTA No. 1 ranking: A hug from her coach!
In October 2017, Simona rose to become world No. 1 – one of the few to do so without winning a Grand Slam title – and then went on to win the French Open in 2018. The Wimbledon win, which followed in July 2019, firmly established her as one of the most feared players on the women’s circuit.
In an interview with Claudiu Pop of Tennis World, USA her coach and confidant Darren Cahill spoke of the turnaround. Cahill had coached Simona from 2016 to 2018; disappointed with her performances — especially after she lost to Jelena Ostapenko in the French Open final of 2017 — he had made Halep work harder than ever on her fitness and her game. Simona was pushed to the brink, and lost to Johanna Konta at Wimbledon and to Maria Sharapova in the first round of the US Open. It was then that Simona’s fitness trainer pointed out a flaw in Cahill’s coaching methods: “I think sometimes you got to go out there, give her a hug and tell her that you love her [sic],” the trainer advised.
Realising his folly, Cahill did just that. He walked over to the US Open locker room, gave Simona a hug, and told her he loved her. Six weeks, later she became world No. 1 and then picked up the two Grand Slam titles. (At present Halep is ranked No. 4 in the WTA list and is coached by Daniel Dobre.)
After her Wimbledon win, Simona said that though Cahill was no longer her coach, he is constantly in touch with her and her team, and keeps tabs on her progress. Some players do not need to be driven hard; they just need to know that they are loved — win or lose — to perform better… like Simona.
Simona has 3, 27,000 followers on Twitter. Surprisingly, she follows only two people — Cahill, and world snooker champion Mark Selby. (She doesn’t follow the game, but has a snooker ball signed by Selby, Halep has explained.)
When Simona breezed past seven-time Wimbledon champion and legend Serena Williams in straight sets (6-2, 6-2), in the Wimbledon women’s final, she fulfilled a dream that her mother, Tania, saw when Halep was only 10. The new champion spoke of that dream in her post-presentation interview and her mother, who was by the court-side then, quickly wiped a tear as she smiled for the cameras.
Simona was born in the Romanian city of Constanta on 27 September 1991. Her parents (Halep’s father Stere owned a dairy products factory) are of Aromanian descent. Inspired by her brother, Nicolae Jr., who is 10 years her senior, Simona is said to have picked up a racket when she was only four.
Her grandfather, Nicolae Sr., said that Simona, as a child, would hit the tennis ball against the walls so hard that they cracked. That perhaps is the secret behind her baseline winners now. When she was 16 — having turned pro a couple of years earlier — Simona had to move to Bucharest to find better practice and training facilities.
A year later, she underwent breast reduction surgery to improve on her game and to facilitate training. Simona called this the ‘biggest sacrifice’ of her career.
The endearing new Wimbledon champion is passionate about football and follows Romanian games closely. Her father played football at the second division level and she was a huge Gheorghe Hagi fan. In her growing years, she also idolised Justin Henin, winner of seven Grand Slam titles and Adrei Pavel, the Romanian tennis player. “I also like Roger Federer’s game but I am not a fan,” she told reporters recently.
Simona’s work ethic and her heavy workload have made her prone to injuries, especially in the knees and ankles. At this year’s Wimbledon Championships though, she seemed to be enjoying the pressures of high expectations. Her fans therefore hope that she will dominate the women’s game in the years to come just like Serena Williams, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and others did before her.
The first Romanian player to win a Wimbledon title, she will soon be conferred with the ‘Order of the Star of Romania’, the country’s highest civilian award. She had earlier received the ‘Patriarchal Cross of Romania’. At the media conference after winning her first Wimbledon title, Simona said she was happy that she would get a life-membership of the prestigious All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. She had also expressed a desire to meet Kate Middleton during the championships. The Duchess of Cambridge made it a point not only to witness her match against Serena Williams from the Royal Box, but also to meet Halep and congratulate her on her fantastic win.
Simona Halep’s presence on tennis courts the world over and the brand of tennis she plays will only benefit the women’s game in the years to come. Go Simona!
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, coach and administrator, he doesn’t believe in calling a spade a shovel.
Updated Date: Jul 20, 2019 10:07:50 IST