When a picture of Simona Halep being treated for dehydration surfaced right after she lost a brutal Australian Open final to Caroline Wozniacki, my heart sank. It was hard to watch. I’ve always been a fan of Simona’s fight and her consistency. Over the last two years, she had fought her way to three major finals, only to lose by a hair’s breath each time, and graciously receive the runner up trophy while watching her opponent lift the title she so badly desired.
To fight so hard, and yet walk away empty handed was bad enough. To fight so hard and end up being treated for dehydration somehow came across as unbearable. I wondered in that moment, if Simona Halep could ever bounce back from that defeat. At the time, it represented her best chance to win a major. She was going up against Wozniacki, a tennis player who had also lost her fair share of major finals and was going for her first.
In today’s final, she was facing a player who had tasted grand slam success for the first time not too long ago. Sloane Stephens magical run to the US Open title seemed destined to replicate itself two majors later. In making the French Open final, Sloane was finding a new level of consistency she was not always known for. She was into her second major final of the last three majors. What’s more? Sloane Stephens was 6 – 0 in major finals. This is a woman who doesn’t get to many finals, but when she does, she is as razor sharp as they come. Sloane was also in imperious form and was developing a reputation of making great players look inferior in their matches against her. It wasn’t improbable to think she’d do the same against a fierce competitor who loses her edge in major finals.
For the first set, that’s exactly what happened. Sloane Stephens outwitted, outhit and simply outplayed Simona Halep. When she took the set 6 – 3, it appeared history’s cruel cycle would continue for the Romanian. However, Simona was not ready to leave this arena for anywhere – even the hospital – without the title she came to collect. She played a spirited game in the second set, and somewhere along the line, Sloane’s reverie faded. Her trance snapped and along with it, her magical hold on the game. Simona, ever the dogged fighter, clamped down on her victim in the third set and raced through the games, inevitably inching closer to her career dream.
When it was all over, I expected Simona’s reaction to be different. I thought she’d jump all over the place with joy and glee. Perhaps she would roll on the ground and paint her face with the red clay. A happy tennis player without a care in the world. Instead, Simona raised her arms skywards and covered her face with her hands as she walked to the net. It wasn’t the celebration I expected, but it was the most appropriate emotion to feel. Relief. It had been a long time coming and at some point, it did not look like it would ever come.
Yet, here we are. Simona Halep is a grand slam champion for the first time. We won’t speculate on whether or not it’ll be her last. All that matters is she’s won one and deservedly so. She can call herself a grand slam champion, at last.