By Ros Satar, in Singapore

  • Simona Halep finishes the year as the year-end World No.
  • Achieved one dream, now to lay the Slam demons to rest
SINGAPORE – Simona Halep had a nerve wracking wait to see if her final burst to get the World No. 1 ranking would lapse at the last minute, but she has been confirmed as the year-end No. 1.

 

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Simona Halep was crowned the 13th year-end World No. 1 at the WTA Finals on Sunday. The diminutive but gritty Romanian has had more than her fair share of ups and downs, especially this year.

There had been big hopes but starting the season with an injury set her back and for her the season proper started in Stuttgart. Her style of play suits the clay and she started that part of the season with a semi-final in Germany followed by winning Madrid for the second time in a row, and reaching the Rome final.

Then came Roland Garros – surely the one Slam that ought to be in her collection before too long. She made the final, but a momentary lapse into timidness ahead of all that a win on the terre battue would bring her allowed the fearless Jelena Ostapenko to swing freely and up-end the Romanian.

Simona Halep at the 2017 WTA Finals tennis tournament (c) Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

That loss hurt. For several tournaments afterwards she talked about the huanting thoughts of that match (always with a shy smile) but that was about the closest she could get to moving on from that loss. Not so today though.

“They are away now, far (waving). This is more important what is happening now than that. But of course my new dream is to win a Grand Slam.”

When asked how she would describe the journey to the top spot, she said:

“Can I use two words? Difficult and amazing.”

Difficult because her quest for perfection, her expectations of herself have sometimes equalled tense and uncomfortable on-court coaching sessions with her coach Darren Cahill. Most notably her almost inexplicable meltdown against Britain’s Johanna Konta in the Miami quarter-final. Having led the match, Konta’s revival sent Halep into an on-court tail-spin frustrating Cahill enough to walk away for a short time.

In Stuttgart she said she had felt ashamed of her behaviour and later admitted that she and Cahill had some distance between them before reuniting for the rest of the season.

 

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A second chance came to claim the top spot with a win at Cincinnati. We pointed out, others who had gravitated to the top of the rankings had not dealt with the pressures that come with it quite so well (we’re looking at you, Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber, but she was relishing the chance to even have that pressure.

Yet when the time came, the door was not only closed, it was veritably slammed shut by the newly crowned Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza who simply blew Halep off the court for the loss of just one game.

With the lead changing hands over the year, Kerber relinquishing to Australian Open champion Serena Williams, Karolina Pliskova gaining it because of Kerber’s lack of results, Muguruza ascending to the top after Pliskova fell early at the US Open, it was almost a relief for Halep to actually get the No. 1 rankings with a win (not to mention a little bit of revenge as she had to beat Ostapenko to get the job done).

Halep said: “The best moment I can say was on court when I won against Ostapenko in Beijing. But also, it’s more special to finish the year, as we can see that less players finished the No. 1 in the world the year, so it’s more special and I think more difficult to do that.

Now I don’t feel any pressure, because the season is finished, but I can imagine that it’s going to be a little bit more difficult. I have to work harder to stay there, but in my mind now is just to enjoy the moment and we will see.”

Of course there is one more thing that eludes her, but she has come so close this year to winning a Slam, it is hard to believe that this award will not, in some way, giver her the impetus and momentum to acheieve too.

Halep continued: “I touched everything I wanted about my dream in this way, because I have many others. But I just want to be relaxed, to enjoy tennis more, and to give my best every time I go on court

“I cannot say that I stopped believing that I can reach the No. 1 this year, because I had many chances, but of course I was a little bit disappointed after those moments that I had during the year.

“I have no problems now, no injuries. So I’m just trying to make the offseason better and to start the next year better.

“I just want to work harder to get better, because I need to do that, and we will see what is gonna happen. I mean, in my opinion, it’s great what I have done until now, so I just want to make it like to be there more, more time, and a Grand Slam.”

Main Image: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

 

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