There was plenty stacked against Simona Halep when she walked onto Centre Court on Saturday for the Wimbledon women’s singles final.
She was playing on a surface which she historically had an uneasy relationship with. She was facing an opponent, Serena Williams, who had won nine of their 10 meetings. She had played in four Grand Slam finals in her career, and lost three of them.
Yet in less than an hour, Halep overwhelmed Williams for the loss of just four games in a masterful performance that saw her commit just three unforced errors for the entire match.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 13, 2019
“I’m very sure that was the best match of my life,” she told the press following her 6-2 6-2 win over Williams.
“The (pre-match) nerves were positive this time. So nothing was negative. I felt in the stomach. I tried to control the emotions. I tried to focus on the game, what I have to play. In the warm-up I was great also. So gave me little bit confidence more that I feel the ball and all is good.
“I always play well when I have emotions. I don’t try to ignore them or I don’t fight against them. I try to take them as a positive and just trying … to put them in the right way, which I did today.
“I’m happy about what I achieved these two weeks. I can’t describe how I feel winning Wimbledon. It’s pretty special.
“I’m really proud of my game of today and the whole tournament.”
Halep had not beaten Williams in five years; back in 2014 in the round-robin stages of the WTA Finals, she overwhelmed the American 6-0 6-2 which was, until last year, the heaviest professional loss of Williams’ storied career.
Serena referenced that match ahead of the final and said she had never forgotten it; since then she had beaten the Romanian six straight times.
Halep has frequently pushed Williams to three sets, including in their most recent battles at Australian Open 2019 and the 2016 US Open. But she always came up short.
“I always been intimidated a little bit when I faced Serena,” Halep admitted. “She’s an inspiration for everyone and the model for everyone.
“I decided this morning how I have to play against her. I knew exactly what I have to do to put her in trouble, not letting her make her game. When she has time, she plays unbelievable. I played many times against her. I knew how the ball is coming. I knew what she doesn’t like that much.
“I just went for it like in Singapore. I had that image in my head. I really believed there is the chance to do the same thing.
“Today I decided before the match that I’m going to focus on myself and on the final of Grand Slam, not on her. That’s why I was able to play my best, to be relaxed, and to be able to be positive and confident against her.”
Such positivity has not always been Halep’s trademark.
Former coach Darren Cahill split with the Romanian in March 2017, unhappy with her attitude in a loss to Johanna Konta in the Miami quarterfinals.
They reunited when Halep made a commitment to a more positive mindset on court.
She’s now a two time major champion, backing up her breakthrough run at Roland Garros last year with a fabulous fortnight on the lawns of the All England Club.
After losing her first three Grand Slam finals in heartbreaking circumstances, she’s improved her win-loss record to a far-more-respectable 2-3.
“The finals I lost in the past helped me for sure to be different when I face this moment,” Halep said.
“It’s never easy to face a Grand Slam final. You can get intimidated by the moment. You can get nervous, too nervous.
“I have learned that it’s a normal match, not thinking that much about the trophy, just going there and try to be the best as you can.
“(At a) set and 5-2 when I was serving … I looked at the scoreboard. I said, Okay, it’s 5-2, it’s real. Then I just played every ball. I didn’t think at the score at all.”
Four points later, she was a Wimbledon champion.
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