July 13, 2019
Simona Halep raced to her first Wimbledon title as though she were riding one of her favourite jet-skis for fun.
After her 6-2, 6-2 win in just 56 minutes she sank to her knees and then held her head in her hands, laughing as she went. A carefree day for the ruthless underdog.
The opposite of how it felt for Serena Williams, as she tried and failed to win the 24th Grand Slam title that would have drawn her level with the legendary Margaret Court.
High on adrenalin, free from pressure, but focused and deadly. Halep played with purpose from the first point.
She said there had been pre-match nerves but ‘no time for emotions’ once the action started.
The Romanian wasn’t prepared to play bridesmaid while history was being made by someone else.
And she wasn’t going to cower in the face of that mighty Serena Williams reputation.
Not when this had been her mother’s dream. ‘When I was about ten or twelve my mum told me if I want to do something in tennis I must play the Wimbledon final. That day came and she is here to see it,’ Simona beamed later.
The match started as shockingly as possible, given that so many pundits had tipped Serena.
The woman with the killer instinct, the one who settled most quickly, was not the player with the most Grand Slams and experience.
Halep took control as though she had been playing Wimbledon finals all her life. Serena let her.
‘She played out of her mind,’ Serena admitted.
The first four games passed in the blink of an eye. Serena was tight and slashing wildly. Halep precise and powerful.
Then Williams settled long enough to win a service game. That gave her some much-needed confidence.
She began rushing the net with mixed success on Simona’s next serve but at least she was starting to dictate the shape points took.
Halep wasn’t having it. She moved Serena left and right. She forced errors. But Williams unleashed huge forehands to reach break point.
Simona dug in and launched the most crushing cross-court forehand of all. A real fizzer from the top of an unusually high bounce to go 5-1 and all but secure the set.
Serena made too many errors on Simona’s next service game to make any difference. She lost the set but found the odd glimmer of hope towards its end.
Halep put early pressure on Serena’s first service game to open the second set. Williams let out a deafening war-cry when she reached for a volley superbly.
More vintage Serena followed. Unstoppable missiles to close out the game. Her friend the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, smiled at the change in the dynamic of the match. But it wasn’t to last.
Williams might have broken Halep to go 2-0 but too many loose shots hampered her cause. She was going to have to cut out the unforced errors to have a shot at the title.
There were none on the next service game, which she won to love. Halep wasn’t going to be handed her first Wimbledon title on a plate.
But Serena’s returns were still too wild. Unforced errors were undoing her on Simona’s serve.
Then that famed Williams serve faltered too. Halep was chasing everything down. She was playing out of her skin. Tension-free.
Serena’s decision-making began to go. And a wild backhand, with the court gaping, allowed Simona to break.
Tight with the weight of expectation, Serena appeared to be beating herself, lost in the historical importance of the day.
She was broken again by a beautiful Halep backhand straight down the line. Simona was serving for the match.
In a few more moments it was over. Poor Serena may never win that 24th title now.
But Halep thoroughly deserved her triumph. Wimbledon to go with the French. Not bad for a young woman who never previously looked good on grass.
Featured image by WTA RosStar