Wimbledon | Halep reaches her first Wimbledon final
It took Simona Halep 72 minutes to make it into her first Wimbledon final on Thursday, with an emphatic 6-1 6-3 win over Elina Svitolina.
It’s an amazing feeling – one of the best moments of my life, It was not easy but I fought very hard to win this match. Simona Halep
“It’s an amazing feeling, and I’m really excited, but also nervous because of this!” she exclaimed to the BBC after the match.
“It’s one of the best moments of my life, so I’m trying just to enjoy it as much as possible and be happy that I could make the final.”
Seeded No 7, Halep was playing her first semi-final at the All England Club since 2014, while Svitolina was making her debut at this stage of any major tournament.
Having broken her Grand Slam hoodoo at Roland-Garros last year, Halep then found herself unable to recapture the hunger of old, set further adrift perhaps by the decision of her coaching mentor, Darren Cahill, to take a year’s break in 2019.
And yet she has brilliantly redefined herself on the Wimbledon grass where she once felt so insecure, adapting and honing her clay skills to the surface, and dismissing Svitolina with considerable ease.
That Darren Cahill was present, sitting in the stands rather than in the player box, respectfully making way there for Daniel Dobre, the Romanian’s mentor since Miami this year, must have meant a lot to Halep.
Nowadays Halep seems to achievie success by her own volition, finding a new self-reliance that has now taken her to the final, the first Romanian woman to reach a singles final in SW19, where she will meet Serena Williams.
The pair have met 10 times with Halep winning once, in 2015, in Singapore.
“It’s an amazing feeling – one of the best moments of my life,” Halep told the BBC as she left the Centre Court. “It was not easy but I fought very hard to win this match.
“She’s always tough, but I played the right tactics and was very strong mentally and physically.
“I have more experience than 5 years ago [when she lost to Eugenie Bouchard at the same stage] and have learned many things. I’m not giving up any more. I really want to win every match. It doesn’t matter who I play in the final. I’ll be on the Centre Court at Wimbledon and I cannot ask for more.”
Svitolina narrowly led her head-to-head with Halep coming into Thursday’s clash, winning 3 of their last 4 matches, including decisive meetings at the 2017 Rogers Cup, BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, and 2018 Internazionali BNL d’Italia, to move ahead 4-3.
It was Halep, however, who had captured their most recent encounter at the Qatar Total Open, rallying from within 5 points of defeat at 4-1 in the final set to snap her losing streak against the former World No 3.
With 17 minutes well into the first set, the match was at a 5th deuce in the second game as Halep and Svitolina went at it hammer and tongs, bludgeoning away from the baseline in ever-longer rallies.
With so much was at stake, Svitolina was breaking new ground, making the last four of a Grand Slam for the first time after 4 unsuccessful quarter-finals.
As with Halep, not many would have forecast that Wimbledon would be the place for the former French and Rome champion to reach that benchmark, especially after a 2019 plagued by injury and patchy form.
The early stages of the first set spelt out how deeply both were invested in the fight.
Halep’s first serve was elusive, with double faults at exactly the wrong moments, but then she would deliver a power backhand down the line to make amends.
Svitolina, a more muscular figure in 2019 than the tiny, bird-like figure of last year, had 3 chances to break in the opening game, and missed them all.
This was a hold of serve requiring 9 minutes, two 23-shot rallies and 5 deuces… and there was so much more of exactly the same in the second game that it looked as if we might still be here at midnight.
Svitolina at last gave in for 0-2 with an overcooked forehand, only to snatch an immediate 90-second break to love.
No sooner was she back in it than she produced too little at the net, and Halep reasserted her advantage, firing a fabulous forehand winner for 5-1 and steaming across the court to cover the ground.
The end of the set defied expectation almost as much as the first, as an increasingly irritable Halep created 5 set points, only to convert none of them.
Finally, she reasserted her composure to thread another chance and, this time, she served out so wide that Svitolina’s only possible return merely furnished Halep with the chance for a clean winner.
Svitolina was nearly out of the tournament in the second round to Margarita Gasparyan and showed off some of that fighting spirit to start the second set, mixing up the pace to keep things even through the first 6 games.
Willed on by her other half Gael Monfils, the Ukrainian was tiring, and the eventual breach for 3-4 had an air of inevitability about it.
Halep wouldn’t be denied, shifting gears once more to roll through the final 3 games, breaking serve twice and losing just one point on serve to reach her 5th career Grand Slam final, her first first since winning her maiden major title at Roland Garros last spring.
“I have more experience, and I’m more positive on court. I have learned many things in the last 5 years, so I’m just trying to be the best version of myself every time I step on court and to fight to the end because I really want to win every match I play.”
In all, it was a glittering day for the former World No 1, striking 26 winners to 16 unforced errors, converting 4 of 7 break point opportunities, and winning more than half of return points played over two sets.
Standing between the No 7 seed and a first Wimbledon crown will be 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, a straight sets winner over Barbora Strycova.
“It doesn’t matter who my opponent will be, because it’s the last match of the tournament. It’s a final, playing on Centre Court at Wimbledon. I cannot ask for more,” said Halep.
“I changed a little bit the game [on the grass]. I play some drop-shots. I use the slice more. The serve is helping me.
“As I said few days ago, now when the ball is coming to me, now I know what to do with it. Maybe that’s why. Maybe I feel confident and I’m not scared any more of how the ball bounces. I think I have the feeling. And also I feel stable on the legs, which is very important on the grass.
“Here this week I realised that I have a good chance on grass because I have strong legs, I can open the court. The court works for me if I play the right tactic.
“I have a good feeling, as I said. I feel stable on the legs, which is very important. Also serve helps me, which is not the best shot, but I’m working on it.”