Simona Halep has the opportunity to become the world’s no. 1 tennis player if she wins Sunday’s Roland Garros final.
She’s not just the best-ranked Romanian tennis player, but also one of our most popular athletes. Simona Halep has again grabbed the headlines of sports newspapers all over the world. On Thursday, in the Roland Garros semi-finals, Halep defeated Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, WTA no. 3, in three sets, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. On Saturday, Halep will play Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, ranked 47 in WTA standings.
Sports news agencies have dubbed Halep favourite to win Saturday’s match, given that Ostapenko, who has just turned 20, has not yet succeeded in winning any title in women’s competitions. Aged 25, Halep is seen, on the other hand, as a very experienced player, with numerous titles on her side in the ITF and WTA circuits. Still, Halep is yet to win her first Grand Slam tournament. It’s the second time Halep reaches the final of the French Open, which in 2014 she lost to Russian Maria Sharapova.
For her, Saturday’s match holds a twofold promise: if she wins, Halep will secure the first trophy in a Grand Slam tournament as well as the number one spot in women’s rankings. “It's a big challenge, a big chance. I think I have the game. I have the mentality to win, but it's going to be tough”, Halep said after winning Thursday’s semi-finals match. Nothing has ever been easy for this young girl born in Constanta, southeastern Romania. Her family took an enormous risk, investing their life’s savings to sponsor Simona’s early tennis days. In order to improve her reaction times and reduce her back pain, Halep underwent breast reduction surgery, much like other professional female athletes who did the same to up their performance.
Despite having had a taste of success and glory, Halep remains a modest and shy person, despite having to cope with the tremendous pressure resting on her shoulders. The fans love her, although many people do resent her. As some pundits say, Halep is Romania, and when she wins, we win. Although tennis is an individual sport, her wins are often representative for the country as a whole, fuelling Romanians’ collective pride. When she loses, Halep is no longer a national symbol and belongs only to herself and her parents, who are said to have considerable sway over her decisions, and her coaches, whom she changes far too frequently, according to others. Her very loyalty to the country was called into question when, years back, she refused to play for Romania in FedCup matches after sustaining injuries. Despite all this, even her most vocal critics agree that Halep remains the best-performing Romanian athlete right now.