Simona Halep was again left disappointed after a title match at a Slam. Having already lost two finals at the French Open, including last year in a shocking upset to Jelena Ostapenko, Halep was defeated in her first final at the Australian Open. Caroline Wozniacki, the victor, also went into the final without a Slam, and in beating Halep she also took her #1 ranking. All in all then, a hugely disappointing day for the Romanian.
Or was it? Though Halep was understandably devastated by the loss, now that the dust has cleared, Halep should be looking back on the Australian Open as a massive positive. It was one of her most impressive Slam performances so far, and she did brilliantly to battle through a difficult draw to the final. Her matches against Jennifer Brady and Angelique Kerber were two of the best of the year so far. For Halep, a Slam is surely going to be hers sooner rather than later.
Experience is everything
Winning at the business end of Slams is so often a matter of experience. For all that there have been the occasional shock victories, the Ostapenko’s, the Sharapova’s and the Becker’s, young players flushed with confidence and boundless energy smashing through more experienced opponents to the biggest titles in the sport, they are very much the exception rather than the norm. The best route to winning Slams is to gain the invaluable experience of what it’s like to play when the pressure is ramped up to the fullest.
Simona Halep is gaining that experience with every deep run she puts together. All the great champions are able to become so because they have a deep well of experience of playing in the business end of a Slam. In the men’s game, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are almost guaranteed to make the last rounds if playing fully fit. Perhaps a more valuable comparison to Simona Halep, however, is Andy Murray.
Murray, not quite an all-time great, had to serve a long apprenticeship before he won his first Slam. Denied by Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in the biggest matches, he had to face adversity similar to that faced by Halep on his route to becoming a Major champion. But because he kept plugging away, kept building his experience in Slams, not just of finals, but of semis and quarters as well, he gave himself a chance. And when that chance came at the 2012 US Open, he had the experience required to take it.
Halep looks to be on a similar path. Most comfortable on the clay she has put in consistently good results on the ‘terre battue’ over the past few seasons. But she has played well away from it too. Since the 2014 Australian Open, she has made it to the quarterfinals of a Major on ten occasions, and at all the Slams. She has also made at least the semis at each of those four Slams. That growing bank of experience will surely serve her well as her career progresses.
A solid foundation
Halep has two major strengths to fall back on as her quest for a Slam continues. One is her relationship with her coach Darren Cahill, which now stretches back to the start of 2016. Cahill has worked with a number of the best players in the game, including Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi, Andy Murray, Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic and Fernando Verdasco. Cahill has a long history of helping players to maximise their potential, and his guidance will be a huge help as Halep looks to progress.
Halep’s other strength is her game itself. Though she is not one of the biggest hitters in the game, in the mould of a Serena Williams or a Jelena Ostapenko, the quality of her ball striking cannot be underestimated. Both her forehand and backhand are very solid shots, and her movement is amongst the best on Tour. She is similar in style to Novak Djokovic, able to defend magnificently, but also has the confidence and power to dictate when required.
Though she lacks the unquantifiable magic that elevates the Serb into the company of the likes of Federer, Nadal and Williams, Halep has more than enough quality to win a Slam, indeed, most likely multiple Slams. She has been stopped in the past by both inexperience and the unpredictable. But she has also returned from every setback a stronger and more complete player. And one senses, soon those setbacks will start to become triumphs.
Do you think Simona Halep will win a Slam soon? Let us know in the comments below!