By Nicholas J. Walz
Throughout the year, USOpen.org will feature up-and-coming players of all ages who could make deep runs at the 2014 US Open. Here’s a look at rising Romanian Simona Halep.
The Baseline: The 22-year-old broke into the Top 50 at the end of 2012 and then channeled her skills and potential into titles. Halep has won all seven of her WTA titles in the last nine months, the last coming in February when she dominated fellow Top 10 player Angelique Kerber in the Qatar Ladies Open final in Doha. Last year, Halep won the New Haven Open at Yale to close out the 2013 Emirates Airline US Open Series and carried her strong play into the US Open, reaching the round of 16. She reached her first career Grand Slam tournament quarterfinal at the 2014 Australian Open.
Halep currently sits at a career-best No. 5 in the world, the best-ever ranking for a Romanian woman. Based on her flurry of tournament triumphs, Halep was named the WTA’s Most Improved Player in 2013. And she has the junior pedigree to match; she is a former No. 1-ranked junior in the world and won the French Open girls’ singles title in 2008.
The Breakdown: Halep is world-class in anticipating, recognizing and then reacting to her opponents’ shots, an instinctual defender with tremendous timing. Her compact swing and strong wrists allow her to redirect balls with pace and depth; at her best, she does an excellent job at keeping the racquet head out in front of her and nails forehands and backhands down the line, making it look much easier than it actually is to pull off.
Moreover, Halep is a heady player who varies her pattern of play, creating the good sort of unpredictability.
At 5-foot-6, she isn’t blessed with ideal size for a top player, but she covers a tremendous amount of court and ranks among the fittest players on tour. Her serve placement and consistency also grade out as superior traits.
An aggressive, young counterpuncher like Halep could really emerge on the clay at Roland Garros, picking up added confidence in her march toward the US Open this summer. She’s already proven to be a fine hard-court talent, compiling a perfect 4-0 record in hard-court finals and notching 11 of her 14 Grand Slam singles victories on the surface. At this point, it won’t be a surprise to see this rising Romanian competing for the Series title in 2014.