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Simona Halep digs deep to see off Lesia Tsurenko

A backhand stroke from Simona Halep
by Alix Ramsay
Friday 27 June 2014

If the transition from clay to grass is awkward for even the most experienced of players, the transition from devastated Grand slam runner-up to potential Grand Slam champion is even trickier but Simona Halep is managing it nicely.

She is safely through to the third round at the All England Club after her 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win over Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine on Friday and now she has Belinda Bencic, the bright young hope from Switzerland, standing between her and a place in the second week. The transition is going very well indeed.

It was only three weeks ago that she was pictured sobbing her heart out at Roland Garros.

Well, what would you do? You have just played your heart out for three-and-a-half hours against one of the best players of the past 10 years and for one of the biggest prizes in the sport. You have come so close to winning you can see you own reflection in the trophy. And then you lose. So you stick your head under a towel and howl.

That was Halep’s initial reaction to losing the French Open final to Maria Sharapova but she is a smart lass and within a couple of minutes she had regrouped. She had almost won her first Grand Slam final, she had pushed Sharapova harder than any other player had ever done in a major final and now she was the world No.3. Hang on a minute, this was a good thing. These Grand Slam tournaments are winnable.

With that thought implanted in her brain, she marched on SW19 and pitched camp in the third round. This was a first: in four previous attempts, she had never got beyond the second round here which, in itself, was a strange stat. Halep’s seven career titles – six of which were won last year – have been collected on every surface, both indoor and out. As the 's-Hertogenbosch champion of 2013, she knows what it feels like to win on a grass court. Then again, until now, the draw has hardly been kind to her at Wimbledon (she bumped into Li Na in the second round last year and Serena Williams two years before that).

Coming here this year as one of the top seeds, Halep’s path through the early rounds had been cleared of random Grand slam winners but, even so, Tsurenko was never going g to be a pushover.

Her ranking lists her as a journeyman – she sits at No.170 in the pecking order – but it is deceptive. Last year she was up to No.60 and while she could not maintain that position, she clearly has talent and weapons. This was not going to be easy for our French Open finalist.

For a set, everything went according to the form book – the lower ranked woman making her mistakes and paying the price against her more experienced rival. But once those first nine games were done and dusted two things happened at once: Tsurenko began to believe in her shots a little more and Halep took her eye off the ball for a moment. From 3-0 up and cruising in that second set, she was dragged into a real scrap.

The retrieving and running that had wrapped up the first set suddenly looked laboured and untidy while Tsurenko was clumping winners. Five consecutive games whistled by her as Tsurenko hauled the match into a third set and the world No.3 was looking rather shaky. 

But what had impressed Sharapova more than anything in Paris was the sheer determination and fight of Halep. No woman had ever made her work so hard for a title, and no Grand Slam final debutante had ever looked so at home in her surroundings as the Romanian – Halep may be a lovely person away from the courts but once into a match, she chews nails and spits rust (a little like Sharapova herself).

So it was that Halep remembered what her strengths were and what she was in town to do. Hurrying, harrying and scrapping for all she was worth, she did to Tsurenko what she had done to Sharapova in Paris. Only this time she won. See: these Grand Slam matches are winnable after all.

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