Halep holds onto the positives

  • Linda Pearce
  • Ben Solomon

After Simona Halep lost last year’s French Open, she said she had not been ready to win. After Saturday night’s gallant defeat to Caroline Wozniacki in a third Grand Slam final, and first at Melbourne Park, she said her mind and her game had been ready, but her body was not.

Yes, the top seed was upset that she lost the Australian Open final, but knew she had done all that she was physically capable of doing to win. She had played with pain in both feet, which were “dead” and will undergo MRI scans. She had a headache and cramps. Yet however low her energy reserves were against a fresher opponent, there was no shortage of effort.

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Halep, the new and improved mighty, fighting Simona, could have given no more.

“I did 100 per cent what I could today. That's why I can say that I'm not sad for that. I'm sad that I lost the match, I was not the winner. But life goes on,’’ she said. 

“For sure in the future, if I keep working like this and I keep playing like this, I will be in a good position again.

“The muscles were tired. The feet were not good enough. But mentally I was ready. I feel that I can face any challenge. I can play against anyone. I can win against anyone. But just sometimes is not how you want because you cannot physically do it.’’

The 26-year-old said it was a far different, better feeling than those she experienced after losing the 2014 final at Roland Garros to Maria Sharapova, and being overrun by unseeded Jelena Ostapenko there in 2017.

“I played better. I didn't move as I wanted because I couldn't. But the game was OK. The mental part was OK. So I think I have improved a lot this tournament. I'm leaving Australia with many good thoughts and many positive things because what I've done these two weeks I never did, me, in the past. So it's OK.’’

But, still.

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It was small comfort to be reminded that the likes of Kim Clijsters and Chris Evert had lost multiple major finals before eventually breaking through. “Yes, but I want to win,’’ Halep smiled. “I’m still losing and I’m still waiting. Maybe the fourth one will be with luck.’’

Halep’s forehand had been her more damaging wing throughout the tournament, and it was responsible for half her match tally of 40 winners. She would have liked to be more aggressive in the first-set tiebreak, but has embraced a more attacking game style overall, which is the type she now knows she wants to play.

“It's clear and I start to feel it pretty well. So I will keep doing that. Firstly have a break. Long,’’ she quipped.

“I have set in my mind that I have to be more aggressive. That's why I'm going to the net. But today my legs were not going, or not fast enough. But still I did some points there. She was running very well. She responded very, very well. She does that all the time. A lot of credit to her.

“But I'm OK with the way I played. Maybe a little bit more energy and a little bit more power, maybe I could have won this match.’’

Her coach, Darren Cahill, told her he was proud, that this was her best tournament, mentally and physically, in terms of her fight. So a player who had cried was able to smile, admitting “is just a tennis match, in the end”.

Having been limited to 15 minutes of practice since spraining her ankle in the first round, and with a sore right foot that had been forced to carry an extra load, Halep was on finals night where she had not expected to be.

“I didn't believe that I can go through all these matches. But I wanted,’’ she said. 

“Looks like I have enough inside power to fight with everything. So it's a good thing. This tournament meant a lot for me.’’