For a player with just two wins at Wimbledon prior to this year’s Championships, Simona Halep’s stock has never been higher. Those who witnessed her 6-2, 6-2 victory over Brazil’s Teliana Pereira will no doubt confirm that the Romanian justifies the hype.
A select band of players have the ability to make the game look effortless. Count Halep among them – rarely was she caught off-balance or out of position by Pereira, finishing the match with 19 winners and just nine unforced errors. She moves with grace, strikes with purpose and is free of the shrieks, tics and fist-pumps of her contemporaries. It is an enchanting combination.
Halep’s record at The Championships – now three wins, three losses – must be read with a couple of caveats. For the past three years she has fallen in three sets, and always to a higher-ranked opponent. In 2011, her second-round opponent was Serena Williams; last year, at the same stage, Na Li.
Over the past 12 months, however, the 22-year-old has successfully completed the transition from junior world No.1 to WTA top-10 player. Six titles in 2013 – including a grass-court crown at s-Hertogenbosch – were followed by a seventh in Doha earlier this year, propelling her into the world’s top 10.
However, her true arrival at the sport’s top table came earlier this month, in the final at Roland Garros. Halep fell in three hard-fought sets at the hands of Maria Sharapova, but her status as the leading light of a new generation was confirmed.
The sun had all but left Centre Court when Halep and Pereira stepped out at 7pm. The No.3 seed made the perfect start, breaking Pereira in the opening game before holding to love. The Brazilian, an attacking player by design, was simply prevented from getting onto the front foot to unleash her forehand as Halep soaked up any pressure and marshalled the play. Her movement was sharper, her strokes crisper and her touch too deft. Should she carry this form forward, another deep run at a Grand Slam beckons.
A second break followed as Halep ran out to a 5-1 lead. Pereira rallied to force the Romanian to serve for the set, but as the wind began swirling around a chilly Centre Court another break at the start of the second quickly followed. Pereira’s shoulders dropped as Halep secured a fourth break of the match – she might have wrapped things up inside an hour, but the world No.88 again dug deep to stave off two match points at 6-2, 5-1. Completing the two-set symmetry, Halep served out a tricky final game to book her spot in the second round.
“It was a perfect start,” Halep said. “First round, always it's difficult, but today I played really well. The court was beautiful, so I was enjoying every moment.”
Seeded No.3 in 2014, Halep will not encounter another seed before the fourth round. In this form, and with that draw, the second week beckons – but the Romanian is wary of looking too far ahead.
“It's tough to say now because, yeah, I have better draw because I'm seeded now and it's normal,” she said. “Next round I play against [Lesia] Tsurenko. She's a good player. I played against her last year, and it was a difficult match.
“I feel a little pressure,” she admitted when asked about her place among the top seed. “It's normal, but I want just to get it and to keep in my mind, and to think about what I have to do on court. It's not easy to be seeded, but it's also nice to be there.
“So I'm very focused. I want to give everything I can on court and to try to play my best. I want to play many matches here, I want to win every match and every tournament, but it's not easy. I will try to give everything on court and to do my best always. I have a goal every day, and I want to fight for it.”
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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