Simona Halep press conference (SF)
Simona Halep has now made it into the finals of the Australian Open 2018, after winning her match against Angelique Kerber.
Simona Halep started by twisting her ankle, felt “almost dead” after surviving a marathon third round and was again forced to save match points in the 9-7 deciding set of her semifinal against Angelique Kerber.
Having vowed to become more courageous should she reach another Grand Slam final, having lost the 2017 French Open decider from a set and 3-0 up, bravery, like drama, has already been in plentiful supply.
Images from the mirrored lenses of coach Darren Cahill’s sunglasses have been a fixture from the players’ box over six fighting rounds, and when Halep looks at her own reflection these days, she is far happier with what she sees. Less of the negativity that prompted Cahill to briefly sever ties last March, enormous resilience and a tally of winners against Kerber that, well, could that even be right?
“I feel more experienced. Also stronger mentally,’’ Halep said. “And the way I play, it's different. I feel I'm more aggressive. I did 50 winners. Eight aces, if you can imagine. My coach told me. It's different, and I hope to keep this also Saturday.’’
There will be similarities with the match-up against Caroline Wozniacki, another opponent who will make her run and run and run. But the left ankle she rolled on day two has been managed with the help of pain-killers, anti-inflammatories and some teeth-gritting. Expect that to continue.
“Now the right foot is a little bit worse, because I push everything on it,’’ Halep said. “So it's tough, but I don't want to think about that, to be honest. I just want to give again everything Saturday, and after that I will have a good holiday.’’
An unwanted break almost started on the middle Saturday, and Halep admits she could not have imagined as she recovered from that three hour, 45 minute epic against Lauren Davis that, a week, later this is where she would be.
She saved two match points, then repeated the feat in the semi. “I was not afraid of losing, so maybe that's why … I won those balls, and then I got the confidence back that I'm still alive and I can do it,’’ Halep said after eliminating Kerber.
For the incumbent No.1, the fact the top ranking is at stake is very much a secondary consideration behind the quest for a maiden major crown. “It's always tough when you are close. I had this opportunity two times,’’ said the dual French Open runner-up, whose honourable first loss was to Maria Sharapova in 2014 and surprise second to the unseeded, free-wheeling Jelena Ostapenko last May.
“The last one was very close. Maybe Saturday I will be better. You never know… Looks like I have enough power to redo this result, and if it's not gonna happen Saturday, I will stay strong and I will keep thinking and dreaming for others.’’
Cahill sees no link between ranking and external expectations, declaring during an appearance on Melbourne radio station ABC’s Offsiders show: “She has no pressure as the No.1. For her, the accomplishment of reaching No.1, year-end No.1, was an amazing thing, and back in Romania it’s hard to describe how big it was for the country, as well. So that’s something she’s achieved, and it’s done.
“She just has pressure to win, on herself. She’s going out there and playing the best that she can, fighting for every point, no matter what the score is, and that’s something she’s improved on in the last couple of years. There’s been a couple of matches previously that she’s let go a little bit, but we’re not seeing that anymore.’’
Still wearing the no-brand red dress she sourced from a tailor in Shenzhen following the end of her deal with Adidas, Halep will not be concerned by any potential lack of endorsement suitors, for her appealing brand of tennis is characterised by great wheels and athleticism, a renowned backhand and improved serve.
The 26-year-old is the first Romanian woman to reach an Australian Open final, and could be the second to win a Slam after Virginia Ruzici in 1978 at Roland Garros. It was there that Halep endured her lowest moment of a challenging season but also a hugely successful one.
“She was on the right end of a lot of great matches and on the wrong end of a lot of really emotional matches,’’ says Cahill, referencing Paris, where Halep admitted the memories of some tentative returns on a trio of break points at 3-0 up in the second set were the ones still “killing” her when she resumed at Eastbourne two weeks later.
New year. Different surface and style of opponent. And Halep’s next chance for not just a famous victory but a truly courageous one.