"I'm another person. Everything changed," said Simona Halep after her 7-6 (4), 6-1 over Shuai Zhang in Wimbledon on Tuesday. "It's a new year, new edition."
If you've followed Halep's career with some regularity, you know that the Romanian has made this statement or something similar to this statement many times before. Every year, almost every press conference gives us a new simona. Now there must be no new leaves left in Halep's yard for her to turn around.
She is not the first tennis player to try to put her old mistake in the rear-view mirror. Like everyone else who has ever played the sport, Halep has promised to stay quieter on the track, to enjoy the moment rather than worry about the outcome, to stop herself, to forget the past and just think about the future. And like the rest of us, she has returned to being herself: Gutsy and temperamental, dogged and dramatic, a brawler and a perfectionist at once. During a fight, Halep will go through the full range of traditional tennis player emotions. What doesn't change – no matter how many times she claims otherwise – is her volatility. And it shouldn't: Halep's rage and joy for the sport gets her in trouble for some days, but it gets her out of trouble as often. Tuesday was the latter.
Through the first six games and 30 minutes, Zhang made his way with the rallies. The 30-year-old Chinese woman who had beaten Halep in two of their previous three meetings hit the ball harder, deeper and closer to the lines. While Halep is an expert on redirecting the ball down the line, Zhang was even better at it. She went up 4-1, and had four break points to get to 5-1. Halep has thrown off the first set of slams in the past; this time she didn't seem to have any choice in the matter.
"I was a little nervous before the fight, a little stressed," Halep said. "I knew she was going to hit the ball very strongly. Also, when she hits them, the ball doesn't jump that much. It's really hard to come back. But I continued to fight."
At 4-1, Zhang started forehands; Not much, but the shots she had lasered in the corners began to misfire with a few inches. It was just enough for Halep; Seeing her opponent come down to earth seemed to inspire her to hang in the rallies no matter what. She rescued a break with a good body service, and then survived the main point of the fight, a long, exhausting, corner-to-corner affair; When Halep finally won it, she held her fist up in silent celebration. The fight was reversed.
"Winning it (game), I really thought I'm still in the set," Halep said. "If the score would have been like 5-1, I think the set would have been gone. I just continued to motivate myself and thought I could turn it around."
"I knew I should be strong and not go back too much from court. So I got a little more aggressive."
From the moment to the end of the set, Halep and Zhang beat it in a frenetic rally after the other. Neither tried to change the pace, mix in slices, go to the drop shots – it was strictly toe to toe. When it was in time, Halep was still undefined, but she had her teeth in the points now and she finally took off in the tiebreaker. The forehand winner she hit 6-4 in tiebreaker gave her the first set and the second set as well. Zhang had nothing left.
Halep says that the biggest difference between this particular New Simona and the old Simona is her attitude to grass. Consensus is that the surface is slower than in recent years (it is also something that tennis fans have heard many times before). If so, Halep, who likes to laugh and likes to paint, will be an advantage.
"I started to feel comfortable in court," she said today. "I don't even slip in this tournament. It's a bit dangerous when you play on the grass, because the feet aren't really stable, like you're on a hard court or canvas. That's why I prefer these surfaces, but now I started to feel it. getting it in my hands, getting it in my legs, and also in my mind, which is very important. "
"Whenever the ball comes to me, I feel like I know what to do with it, which is important."
Halep will continue from a player who has been successful against her earlier, Shuai Zhang, to another, Elina Svitolina, in the semi-finals – the Romanian is 2-4 against the Ukrainian. Whether this is really a new Simona, it's a past, she really wants to forget whether to make her first Wimbledon final.