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July 13, 2019: The day Simona Halep dealt Serena Williams her heaviest Grand Slam final loss

Every day, Tennis Majors takes you back in time to relive a tennis event which happened on this specific day. On this day, July 13, 2019, Simona Halep won the Wimbledon title, inflicting on Serena Williams her heaviest defeat in a Grand Slam final

What exactly happened on that day?

On this day, July 13 in 2019, Simona Halep handed Serena Williams the heaviest loss 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.

The players: Simona Halep and Serena Williams

  • Simona Halep: the Grand Slam winner and former world No 1 from Romania

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 on the big stage in 2013, claiming six WTA titles (the most important one coming 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 even reached the world No 1 ranking in October 2017. Despite her top billing, Halep had never claimed a Grand Slam title despite three runner-up finishes (Roland-Garros 2014 and 2017, Australian Open 2018), which once again brought the validity of the WTA rankings under the scanner. 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 few Grand Slams, only reaching the quarter-finals 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 the world No 1 ranking 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, Serena Williams took her career into a new dimension, accomplishing an extraordinary feat which was known as the “Serena Slam,” claiming four Grand Slam tournaments in succession, beating sister Venus each time in the final round. Between 2004 and 2006, she was less focused on 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 another Grand Slam 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 singles crowns. She then took a break from the tour to give birth to her first child and 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.

The place: Wimbledon, south-west London

Wimbledon is the oldest and the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. Held by the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet 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 its white dress code.

Ball boys covering Wimbledon Centre court
Ball boys covering Wimbledon Centre court

The facts: Halep loses only four games and wins in under an hour

In this 2019 Wimbledon final, few would have put their money on Halep. She was ranked No 7 in the world 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 seven-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams, 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. Williams had never lost three consecutive Grand Slam finals in her entire career.

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-deprived, 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, going ahead 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.”

What next? Halep and Williams yet to add to their Grand Slam tally

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 semi-finals at the Australian Open (losing to Garbine Muguruza, 7-6, 7-5) before claiming a title at Dubai prior to the coronavirus crisis freezing the tour. Halep has yet to reach another Grand Slam final since the tour resumed in August, and was unable to defend her 2019 Wimbledon title in 2021 (Note – the 2020 edition of Wimbledon was cancelled) due to injury.

Williams would be defeated in a fourth Grand Slam final at the 2019 US Open by Bianca Andreescu, 6-3, 7-5. Since then, the American, now aged 40, has reached two more Grand Slam semi-finals but has yet to reach another final at a Grand Slam. Williams was also forced to withdraw from her first-round match at Wimbledon 2021 due to injury, and was knocked out the year afterwards at the same stage by France’s Harmony Tan.

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