- 13 Jul 2020
What happened exactly on that day
On this day, July 13, 2019, Simona Halep gave Serena Williams the heaviest defeat of her entire career in a Grand Slam final, crushing her 6-2, 6-2 in only 57 minutes. Although the American, a seven-time Wimbledon champion, was the favourite on grass, Halep played a perfect match to claim her second major crown following her triumph at Roland-Garros in 2018.
Simona Halep, from Romania, was born in 1991. She entered the top 100 for the first time in July 2010, a few months after undergoing breast reduction surgery. She broke through in 2013, claiming six WTA titles (the most important one in Moscow, defeating Samantha Stosur in the final, 7-6, 6-2), and reaching the fourth round at the US Open, where she lost to Flavia Pennetta (6-2, 7-6). She finished the year ranked No 11. Between 2014 and 2017, she established herself as a top five player, and she even reached world No 1 in October 2017. Although on top of the world, she had never claimed a Grand Slam title despite three lost finals (Roland-Garros 2014 and 2017, Australian Open 2018), which once again questioned the validity of the WTA rankings. Yet Halep proved herself worthy in 2018, when, on her third attempt, she finally triumphed in a French Open final, beating Sloane Stephens (3-6, 6-4, 6-1). In the months that followed, her motivation dropped slightly, and she did not perform very well in the next Grand Slams, only reaching the quarterfinals once, at the 2019 French Open. She was world No. 7 at the start of Wimbledon.
Serena Williams, born in 1981, is the youngest of the Williams family. Her older sister Venus, at the start of her career in 1997, had declared that her main rival for world No. 1 would be her younger sister Serena. At the time, the tennis experts did not know whether she was joking or just being provocative. They soon discovered how serious Venus was. Serena’s breakthrough year had been 1999. That year, in September, to general surprise, she claimed her first Grand Slam title before her older sister, beating Martina Hingis in the US Open final (6-3, 7-6). She also won the doubles event, partnering Venus, and by the end of the year she was world No 4. In 2001, she reached the US Open final again, falling to her sister in the first Major tournament final contested by two sisters during the Open Era. Between Roland-Garros 2002 and the 2003 Australian Open, she took her career into a new dimension, accomplishing an extraordinary feat which was known as the “Serena Slam,” claiming the four Grand Slam tournaments consecutively, beating Venus each time in the final round. Between 2004 and 2006, she was less dedicated to her tennis career and despite another Grand Slam won at the 2005 Australian Open, she took a break from the tour in 2006. She came back stronger than ever in 2007 and, over the following years, she accumulated numerous major titles. After a last one at the 2017 Australian Open, where she sister Venus for the ninth time in a major final and beat her for the seventh time, 6-4, 6-4, she now held 23 Grand Slam crowns. She then took a break from the tour to give birth to her first child and she was back in 2018 to chase Margaret Court’s record of 24 major titles. So far she had been defeated in the final round twice, in 2018, at Wimbledon and the US Open. When Wimbledon started, she was ranked No. 10 in the world.
Wimbledon is the oldest and the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. Held by the All England Lawn Tennis and Cricket Club since 1877, it moved into its current location in 1922, the same year when the Centre Court was built. Considered by many as the most intimidating court in the world, with its famous Rudyard Kipling quote above the entrance (“If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same”), the Centre Court had seen the best players of all time competing for the title. After the US Open switched to clay and then hard court in the 1970s, and after the Australian Open switched to hard court in 1988, Wimbledon remained the only Grand Slam tournament to be played on grass, a surface that is usually more suitable for serve and volley players. Not only did Wimbledon keep its surface, but it also maintained old-fashioned traditions such as the white dress code.
In this 2019 Wimbledon final, few people would have put their bets on Halep. She was World No. 7 and grass was not her favourite surface; her topspin and defensive skills were not as effective on the fast, relatively low-bouncing courts of the All-England Club. On top of that, she was to face Serena Williams, seven-time Wimbledon champion, whom she had beaten only twice in 11 encounters, losing their last five matches.
Williams had a third opportunity to tie Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles. In 2018, Angelique Kerber had defeated her in the Wimbledon final (6-3, 6-3), and at the US Open, it was Naomi Osaka who deprived her of a 24th crown. Never in her entire career had Williams lost three consecutive Grand Slam finals.
Yet, from the very start, Halep got a hold on the match, taking the first four games in only 11 minutes. Her serve, which had never been a major weapon, was faster and more precise than usual. She had obviously planned to stay aggressive at all times to prevent Williams from dictating the game with her powerful groundstrokes. The Romanian also used her great defensive skills to push the ball back whenever Serena was in control of the point. Moved around, time-depraved, Williams started missing a lot whereas Halep only made three unforced errors during the entire match!
After losing the first set 6-2, the American tried to hold on in the early games of the second set, leading 2-1, but her hopes were short-lived. Halep won the next five games to seal the victory, 6-2, 6-2 in 57 minutes. Williams had never lost a Grand Slam final with such a lopsided score. “She literally played out of her mind,” Williams said. “Whenever a player plays that amazing you just have to take your hat off.”
Halep would finish the 2019 season as world No. 4 following a disappointing second-round loss at the US Open against Taylor Townsend, ranked only No. 116 (2-6, 6-3, 7-6). In 2020, she would reach the semifinals at the Australian Open (losing to Garbine Muguruza, 7-6, 7-5) before claiming a last title at Dubai prior to the coronavirus crisis freezing the tour.
Williams would be defeated in a fourth Grand Slam final at the 2019 US Open by Bianca Andreescu, 6-3, 7-5. Aged 38, Williams is still continuing her quest for Margaret Court’s record.
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