Simona Halep – Maria Sharapova Rivalry

The last Gland Slam Tournament of the year will take place next week in New York City. Last week I’ve been following one of the five premier 5 tournaments, the Western and Southern Open at Cincinnati. I would like to particularly share my opinion about the quarterfinal’s match between Simona Halep (Romania) and Maria Sharapova (Russia), held on Friday the 15th.

First of all, these two players have met 5 times in all, two previous meetings recorded in 2012, and 3 meetings this year, all 5 matches won by the Russian. At the moment they are the first two players in the rankings to qualify for the WTA finals in Singapore; the Russian is leading with a difference of just 277 points. Currently Simona is playing at Connecticut Open in New Haven, where she is the defeating champion and top seeded; a qualification in the semifinals will give her 350 points; just enough to take the lead in the WTA finals rankings. Also, Simona Halep is second on the WTA rankings, behind the legendary Serena Williams with a difference that can be mathematically overcome by the Romanian in the next month in order to become the first Romanian woman tennis player to be World No.1.

The match on Friday was as dramatic, intense, powerful, psychological and with a lot of ups and downs just as they used me in all their 3 previous meetings, again ended after 3 dramatic sets, with another win for the Russian. They played in May the final at Madrid, a Premier Mandatory Tournament, the Russian won 1-6 6-2 6-3, no more than a month later they meet again in the Final of the second Grand Slam of the year, at Ronald Garros, where the Russian win the first set with 6-4, the Romanian comes back in the second set winning it in tie break with 7-5, just to give up the final set with a repeated 6-4; they managed to record the longest woman final at Paris in the past 13 years with over 3 hours of high quality tennis. Finally, last week the quarterfinals were ended again after 3 intense sets, but what I have noticed this time more than ever, is how uncomfortable it is to play against Shaparova.

Shaparova is one of the most aggressive players in the WTA circuit at the moment; her hits are deep and powerful with forehand and backhand all combined with a very good movement on the court despite her height. All these playing qualities are possessed by Her Majesty the Queen of Screams, I think that is what makes the difference on the court, because of her grunting many times it feels like she is playing alone, but also thanks to her very dominant way of playing which rarely puts her in defensive positions. Her mental toughness makes her simply refuse to lose; determines her to fight and raise her playing lever every time she finds herself in a difficulty, which makes her a wonderful competitor to any woman in the WTA circuit.

Simona Halep is aggressive and offensive as well, but much shorter and with a faster movement on the court; because of her very intelligent game and mental toughness she tends to make not so many errors. Simona is a rally player, she reaches and returns almost all the balls and counterattacks; thanks to her simply elegant movement on the court she can play comfortably on all surfaces. Unlikely Sharapova, Halep hits powerfully without making a sound. In all the matches she played against Sharapova it was just as she couldn’t play her game, seeing her often in defense rather than attacking and Sharapova most of the times dictating the points while screaming louder and louder. I think is very irritating for Halep to hear Sharapova grunting so loudly, it is irritating for me just hearing it at TV; it is hard to concentrate against her and especially when Maria is able to reach 100 decibels when screaming. With no doubts Simona Halep has the ability to defeat all female tennis players.

By the way about Maria, during the quarterfinals at Cincinnati; the chair empire in the 3rd set was kindly asking poor Maria who is bothering her among the audience, calling her desperately: “Maria! Maria! Maria!”; after Maria indicated who was bothering her, the empire just did her job telling the crowd not to bother “miss Sharapova” anymore; I am sure the crowd was imitating Sharapova’s screams and she was feeling uncomfortable with that. It happened before. Few minutes later Simona Halep hits a ball on the right line of the court and after Sharapova hits the ball in the net the empire screams “OUT!”, Simona asks for challenger and the ball was actually IN. Normally, this point should have been for Simona Halep, but the empire decided to repeat the point because Sharapova hit the ball after she screamed “out!”. That was not true. That was the key moment of the match, Simona got angry and frustrated. Few points later Sharapova wins the quarterfinals with 3-6 6-4 6-4 and goes to the semifinals where the Russian beauty is defeated by the Serbian beauty, Ana Ivanovic.

How this time Halep took for the first time a “toilet break” after Sharapova took hers at the end of the first set, she might as well start screaming on the court, because in the end is not important how you win, but to win and both of them are big winners.

Best of luck to both of them in New York next week and I am sure that in the next years these two wonderful players will create a wonderful rivalry. Meanwhile, I will follow Simona Halep’s ascension this week at New Haven, opening match for Simona Halep is today against Magdalena Rybarikova from Slovakia, her first opponent on the way to defeat the title Halep won last year.  

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