How fortunate is Simona Halep? She can hold the Wimbledon title for another year without lifting a racquet. No one would deny her that in the circumstances as she remains one of the nicest players there is in one of the most competitive individual professional sports.
“It’s a really nice bonus actually,” Halep told Wide World of Sports. “Obviously, we would all have preferred to have played Wimbledon this summer but since we could not, I will have an extra year as defending champion and will enjoy that special honour. I can’t wait to walk out on Centre Court on the first Tuesday (in 2021) as defending champion.”
She raised the beautiful Venus Rosewater Salver last year after just 58 minutes of play on the Centre Court, after beating Serena Williams. The trophy sits at her parents’ house in Constanta in her native Romania and she “likes to pay it a visit” when she can.
Twelve months ago, she played one of the most amazing matches of her career to beat Williams in the final and became the first Romanian to win Wimbledon. She says this victory was “totally different, but not bigger” than her first major, the French Open the year before.
“To be playing the Wimbledon final on Centre Court against arguably the greatest player of all time, and to produce a performance like that; it still feels like a dream when I say it like that actually, but my name is on the wall so I know it’s true,” Halep said, as a smile lit up her face.
“I think it was one of the best, if not the best matches I have ever played. My level was high from the first ball to the last ball and I enjoyed every single second.”
Yet again the American was denied her goal of equalling Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 majors.
It was Saturday July 13. The day started a bit cloudy with the mercury in the low twenties. This was a David and Goliath affair and most believed Williams was going to achieve the target she had set for herself – that record. The year before she fell short when Angie Kerber dismissed her 6-3, 6-3 in the final.
That result was maybe not so surprising as Serena was still not back to her best having given birth eleven months before and Kerber is an outstanding grass-courter and a southpaw. This time was expected to be different for Williams.
Halep, even though she had reached the final, was not really known as a grass court player. However, what many overlooked was the fact the grass was not playing quite like a low bouncing traditional grass court. The hot weather over the two weeks in London meant the ball was bouncing at the right height for the Romanian.
As the two ladies walked on court there was a calmness on the face of Simo, the nickname given to her by her current coach, Aussie Darren Cahill. By contrast Williams had a bit of a nervous look; three times before she had the chance to equal Court.
“The night before I had dinner with her and her team led by her coach Daniel Dobre who I have so much respect for,” Cahill recalled. “There was a calmness about her not seen before and very different to the other grand slam finals. She was ready and as relaxed as one could be before a big final. From a pure tennis point of view, it was the best I’d seen her play.”
Serena started the final by serving and was immediately broken. Not uncommon. The nerves normally evaporate after that.
Halep held serve and then broke again and held once more to lead 4-0. It was not until the next game that the American was on the scoreboard. A few murmurs went around the most treasured tennis court in the world but still there was the feeling Williams would rally.
Halep never allowed that to happen as she played stunning tennis. She was like a jack rabbit scurrying around the court, coming up with glorious winners cross court and down the line. She kept making Williams play one more ball, one more ball. The first set was done for the loss of just two games.
The sun was starting to bathe the court as the packed stands applauded. The Royal Box was full and sitting in the front row, in the centre, was the Patron of the All England Club, The Duchess of Cambridge, and alongside her, her sister-in-law, Serena’s BFF, The Duchess of Sussex.
The first set ended with Williams sending a return of serve off her forehand, wide. The more she pushed herself, the more the errors came.
In the fifth game of the second set Halep struck again. It was 2-2 and Williams was facing break point, she came in behind a short ball. The court was open for the winner and she drilled her backhand, but it sailed over the baseline and Halep led 3-2.
The seventh seed never looked back as the next four games fell to her. On championship point Halep powered a forehand deep to Williams’ forehand and she ploughed it into the net. Simona Halep dropped to her knees in disbelief – 6-2, 6-2, the most one-sided final since 2014.
“I proved to myself what I can do. I proved that I can win on another surface, and especially a surface that it took me so long to fall in love with,” she said, reflecting on twelve months ago. “It also showed me the importance of self-belief and the power of confidence.
“The quaintest thing is that I got to be a member of the All England Club and wear the badge. No one can ever take away the fact that I am now part of the club’s history and I’m really proud of that.”