Simona Halep recently claimed her first slam singles title at Roland Garros in Paris. It was the culmination of a long journey for the 26-year old Romanian. She was playing in her fourth slam final, the third in twelve months, and she had never been successful. Now she was playing Sloane Stephens who won last year’s US Open and had never lost a tour-level final, going 6-0 in the ultimate match of a tournament.
The pressure was on Halep
The odds seemed against Halep and yet, despite going down a set and a break, she rallied to win, sweeping the final set 6-1. Her previous three attempts in slam finals had all been nail-bitingly close, all going the full three-set distance. I worried for her that she would become the fourth women in tennis history to lose her first four slam finals and never go on to win one. The others are Elizabeth Ryan, Jan Lehane, and most recently, Helena Sukova, who lost her fourth to Steffi Graf at the 1993 US Open.
Of course, there are other women who have lost their first four slam finals but went on to win more than one, like Kim Clijsters, Doris Hart, and Helen Jacobs. And let’s not forget Esna Boyd who lost the first five Australian Championships before finally claiming the sixth, and Simone Mathieu who lost six French finals before winning two in succession in the late 1930’s.
She finally won her first, but will she win any more?
So Halep has been saved from the fate of winlessness, but will the achievement of a lifelong goal begin a slow decline or spur her to more? When Novak Djokovic finally won the French, his career promptly plummeted. Ditto Mats Wilander after becoming yearend #1, or Jana Novotna after she finally won Wimbledon. Will Halep follow the footsteps of Ana Ivanovic as a one-slam wonder, or will she be more like Kim Clijsters who went on to claim four slams?
Halep is 26, about halfway through her career. The younger a player is when they break through at a slam, the better chance they have of winning again. Clijsters was 22 when she won her first slam. Ivanovic was also young at 20 but never made another slam final. Closer in age was Sam Stosur, 27 when she claimed the US Open, her only slam. Kerber was 28 and Li Na was 29 when they each won the first of two slam titles.
Halep has to break the trend to be a multi-slam champ
So it would be unusual for a player starting at Halep’s age to claim more than two slam titles. But what fire burns within her? Inner drive can defy expectations and trends. This is a woman wholly dedicated to her craft. She took the radical move of breast reduction surgery at age 17 in order to play better. She climbed slowly up the rankings, finishing in the year-endd top 10 for the first time at age 23. Now at 26 she has a slam title. It’s been a slow road for Halep, but one of steady progression.
She may have a letdown after winning her first major, most players do, but given her history and determination, I bet she comes back for more and successfully claims more slams in the future.
- Charles brings THE SLICE from Vancouver, Canada. SUBSCRIBE to THE SLICE on YouTube for the best tennis videos on the web!