Simona Halep

Simona Halep Shows Resiliency In Breakthrough French Open Victory

Down a set and break in the French Open final, it looked like a familiar refrain for Simona Halep – not being able to rise to the occasion and win a major final.

However, the 26-year-old Romanian, previously 0-3 in major finals and ranked No. 1 in the world despite her lack of success on the highest levels of pro tennis, was able to show amazing resiliency and win her first major championships at the French Open, defeating reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the final.

“All the experience from those three finals that I lost … was a positive thing,” Halep said, “and gave me a little bit more power to believe.”

“That’s the most important thing — that I stay there focused,” said Halep, the first Romanian to win a major singles title since her agent Virginia Ruzici, ironically 40 years earlier at the 1978 French Open. “I believed. And I never gave up.”

Halep lost two previous finals at the French Open — against Maria Sharapova in 2014 as the underdog in a three-set slugfest, then as the heavy favorite last year against unseeded Jelena Ostapenko despite leading by a set and 3-0. Her third runner-up finish came against Caroline Wozniacki at the Australian Open in January, where she lost a tight three-set battle.

“Her journey has been tough. And she had a heartbreak here last year and in Australia and all the things that have happened to her,” Stephens said. “I mean, it’s a great story and just a great moment for her.”

From 4-4 in the second set, Halep won seven games in a row to take a 5-0 lead in the final set as Stephens appeared to tire.

Expect The Unexpected At The 2018 Australian Open

The Australian Open has a history of producing unpredictable results with healthy helping of long-shot champions, finalists and semifinalists. A primary reason for this is because the event is played in the third week of the tennis season and a players off-season training – or lack thereof – showcases itself.

Injuries and comebacks are the major theme heading into the 2018 Australian Open. On the men’s side, five-time finalist Andy Murray is out of the event after undergoing hip surgery. Former top 10 star Kei Nishikori of Japan is also not competing due to injury. Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka are expected to post in their returns to tournament tennis. Djokovic has not played since last summer with a right elbow injury. Wawrinka has also not played since the summer after undergoing  knee surgery.

World No. 1 Rafael Nadal had a much shorter injury layoff, not playing an official tournament since having to withdraw from the ATP World Tour Finals at the end of the 2017 season with a hampered knee.

The Australian Open has a long history of long-shots advancing deep into the tournament and also claiming the men’s and women’s singles titles. On the men’s side,  some most recent surprise performances have been champions Petr Korda (1999), Thomas Johannsson (2002) and also Marcos Baghdatis, Fernando Gonzalez and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who made their only major singles final appearances in 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively. Since then, winners and runners-up have been among the elite of the elite – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – with the lone exception being Stan Wawrinka, who was ranked No. 9 when he won his first major title in Melbourne in 2014.

In 2017, Grigor Dimitrov had another breakthrough major tournament by reaching the semifinals, where he lost in an epic five-set thriller to Nadal. After his victory at the year-end ATP World Tour Finals in London to end 2017, Dimitrov is the top choice to win the title in Melbourne this year other than No. 1 Nadal and No. 2 seed and defending champion Roger Federer. Austria’s Dominic Thiem, ranked No. 5, and Germany’s Alexander Zverev, ranked No. 4, are also poised for greatness and could begin this next generation of champions with an Australian Open win. Australia’s immensely talented Nick Kyrgios, ranked No. 17, could put his temperament aside and rise the tide of local support to fulfill his massive potential. His title in Brisbane leading into the event have buoyed his tennis betting odds.

On the women’s side, the Australian Open has also crowned unheralded champions such as Kerry Reid in 1977, Chris O’Neil in 1978 and Barbara Jordan in 1979. Angelique Kerber was the Australian Open surprise in 2016, winning her first major title with a final-round upset of world No. 1 Serena Williams.  Kerber and 2008 champion Maria Sharapova are the only two former Australian Open winners in the 2018 women’s singles field. Defending champion Serena Williams has pulled out of the event, not feeling her post-pregnancy comeback has progressed fast enough for her liking. Vika Azarenka, the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champion, also pulled out of the event since she is not able to travel overseas in a custody battle of her son.

The top two women’s seeds, Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki respectively, have never won a major singles title, which may place No. 3 seed Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 French Open and 2017 Wimbledon champion, as the favorite. Elina Svitolina, the No. 4 seed, has also never won a major singles title but appears as though she is a future candidate for that role and Australia would be an appropriate stage for this kind of breakthrough.

Johanna Konta of Britain, born in Australia and ranked No. 9, may be a surprise pick to win the title. She was a surprise semifinalist Down Under in 2016 and also at Wimbledon in 2017 so she could make a move to a later round.

Simona Halep Wins Shenzhen Open Title In China

Romanian World No.1 Simona Halep enjoyed a winning start to her season as she lifted the Shenzhen Open singles title with a strong 6-1, 2-6, 6-0 victory over defending champion Katerina Siniakova in 74 minutes.

After a four hour rain delay, the match was played at the indoor tennis stadium of the Shenzhen Longgang Sports Centre.

The singles top seed did not face a single break point and won 70% of her service points in a powerful first set display but had her serve broken three times in the second as her 21-year-old Czech opponent staged a comeback.

However, 26-year-old Halep showed just why she was the world No.1 in the final set, winning 24 out of 30 points as she served her opponent a bagel to complete the victory in some style. The trophy marks Halep’s sixteenth career title and second here in Shenzhen after her win in 2015.

“It’s been a great week for me as I’ve been playing very well. It was a difficult match and (Siniakova) played very well. She beat Sharapova which is great – I know that feeling. I think we had a great match today. I tried everything to win. I was a little bit less nervous and just tried to enjoy the moment even if we are playing indoors. It’s not easy but we did our job and I’m happy that I could win the first title of the year,” said Halep.

En route to the title, Halep defeated American Nicole Gibbs in the first round, China’ Duan Ying-Ying in the second, Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka in the quarterfinal and fourth seeded compatriot Irina-Camelia Begu in yesterday’s semifinal. The Romanian only dropped two sets the entire tournament.

World No. 47 Siniakova, who defeated Halep in the second round here last year, paid tribute to her opponent’s performance.

“I didn’t play as well as I did last year in the final but Simona really played well today. It’s a good start to the season for me, but of course, a better start for Simona. Last season I won two titles after making the final here so hopefully I can get more titles again this year,” said Siniakova, who was the singles sixth seed.

Both Halep and Siniakova are also in the doubles finals with their respective partners Begu and Barbora Krejcikova. The match commenced just over thirty minutes after the singles final was completed.

The Shenzhen Open is organized by the Chinese Tennis Association, Shenzhen Municipal Bureau of Culture, Sport and Tourism and CCTV-IMG Sports Management Company and is co-organized by the Bureau of Culture, Sport and Tourism of Longgang District, Shenzhen Gemdale Sports Industry Co. Ltd. and Kaisa Culture Sports & Tourism Group.

The event is proud to have prestigious commercial sponsors that include the premier sponsors Kaisa Group and Gemdale Group together with Crowne Plaza Shenzhen Longgang City Center, Iqiyi Sports, Erke, Life Fitness, Yonex, Head and Master Kong You Yue Purified Drinking Water.

The official tournament website www.ShenzhenOpenTennis.com has additional information about the tournament.

Caroline Wozniacki Wins Singapore, Simona Halep Finishes Year-End No. 1

In a battle of two former WTA World No.1s, Caroline Wozniacki defeated Venus Williams to lift the Billie Jean King Trophy at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global today, October 29.

In their eighth career meeting, the Dane notched her first win over the American, powering to a straight sets victory (6-4, 6-4) to clinch her 27th and biggest title of her career.

“To be here with the trophy means a lot, and it’s a great way to finish off the year,” said Wozniacki. “I’m really proud of how I have played all week and how I really produced some great fighting out there.”

Despite not qualifying for the semifinals in the round-robin format, Simona Halep clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking on the WTA Tour.

Since the inception of computer rankings in 1975, Halep becomes the 13th WTA player to achieve the year-end No.1 singles ranking, and the first from Romania.

“Our congratulations to Simona Halep who is a worthy winner of the WTA year-end World No.1 singles ranking. Simona has had a great season, winning the title in Madrid and reaching the final at Roland Garros,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman & CEO, Dubai Duty Free. “We wish her well for the remainder of the year and look forward to seeing her play in Dubai in the near future, where she won the title in 2015 and has many ardent fans.”

The Romanian became the 25th player to achieve the No.1 ranking on October 9, 2017 following her 27th career WTA final at the China Open in Beijing, and is ensured to retain the position as the top player for the rest of the year.

“I’m very proud to end the season as the WTA World No.1,” said Halep. “I have worked extremely hard to be the best player I can be, and it is an honor to be in the No.1 position at the end of the year.”

Halep has enjoyed another consistent season, highlighted by defending her title at the Mutua Madrid Open and reaching her second Grand Slam final at Roland Garros. In addition, the 26-year-old reached the title match at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia (Rome), Western & Southern Open (Cincinnati) and the China Open (Beijing), earning her fourth consecutive qualification at the year-end BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

This season, Halep also made a quarterfinal run at Wimbledon, as well as semifinal showings at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix (Stuttgart) and Rogers Cup (Toronto).

Halep entered the Top 10 for the first time on January 27, 2014, and has maintained her Top 10 status for 196 consecutive weeks. Having made her debut in the Top 5 in the spring of 2014, the Romanian has spent just eight weeks below that threshold.

The WTA Year-End No.1 trophy was presented to Halep by WTA President, Micky Lawler.

 

Jelena Ostapenko Creates Fascinating Tennis Trivia, Talking Points In Roland Garros Victory

by Randy Walker

@TennisPublisher

 

There are too many fascinating facts about Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia winning the women’s singles title at Roland Garros not to share.

The 20-year-old No. 47-ranked defeated Simona Halep 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the final to become not only the first player from Latvia to win a major championship, but became the first unseeded player to win the women’s title since Margaret Scriven in 1933. Since there are now 32 seeded players in major championships (since 2001), this is an even more outstanding statistic when only 16 players were seeded in most championships – or even only eight in 1933 when Scriven won.

Incredibly, Ostapenko had never won a professional tournament before her dramatic win in Paris. She became the first player to make Roland Garros their maiden pro tournament victory since Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil did the same as the No. 66-ranked player – on the exact day that Ostapenko was born, June 8, 1997.

On Thursday, June 8, 2017 – Ostapenko’s 20th birthday – she advanced into the women’s final with 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3 win over Timea Bacsinsky, who was also celebrating her birthday, turning 28.

Halep, who would have won her first major championship and secure the world No. 1 ranking with the win, led the match 6-4, 3-0 but was not able to close out the match against the loose and free-hitting Ostapenko. Halep also led 3-1 in the final set but, again, could not close out the championship. In one of the most famous – or infamous – let-cord shots in the history of tennis, Ostapenko secured her crucial service break when she hit a down-the-line backhand that was heading wide, but clipped the top of the net, bouncing high in the air while also ricocheting back into the court for a winner.

Ostapenko hit an equalizing 54 winners and 54 unforced errors in the final.

Ostapenko becomes the lowest-RANKED player to win a major singles title since Serena Williams won the 2007 Australian Open when she was ranked No. 81. Kim Clijsters won the 2009 US Open when she did not have a ranking, returning to pro tennis after retirement to have a child.

Simona Halep Continues Silent U.S. Open Run

by Kevin Craig

@KCraig_Tennis

 

Simona Halep was able to fight off a valiant effort from the No. 31 seed Timea Babos of Hungary on Saturday at the US Open, solidifying her spot in the fourth round of the US Open with a 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 win.

“I don’t know how I came back. I felt like I didn’t play my best but I was fighting to the end for every ball,” said Halep.

The 5th seeded had been struggling in 2016, by her standards, but has managed to turn that form around in the past few months. Since May, when her ranking fell to No. 7 after having been ranked No. 2 at the start of the year, Halep has a 29-4 record. During that impressive run of form, the Romanian has racked up three titles, two of which were Premier level events, and had a 13-match win streak.

To no one’s surprise, Halep has continued to play well in New York, not dropping a set in her first two matches. Babos, though, gave Halep her first scare of the tournament, and almost sent her packing.

In the first set on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Halep looked to be in the same form she has been all summer, breaking Babos three times and saving the two break points she faced in the set. She only had difficulty in one of her three service games of the set, as she only dropped one point in the other two games.

Babos looked to have things figured out early on in the second set, as she took Halep to deuce in her first service game of the set before breaking the Romanian the next three times. Those three breaks for Babos were more than enough to level the match at one set each.

In the third, the Hungarian continued to have the momentum on her side as she broke Halep for the fourth time in a row to go up a break in the first game. Serving at 3-2, though, Babos finally cracked and the 2014 French Open runner-up broke back, but almost gave up another break at 4-4 as she had to dig out of a 15-40 hole to hold. In the next game, though, Halep was able to break Babos to close out the nervy three-set victory.

“I was trying to push her back. I was trying to run for every ball. I did everything I could today and I’m really happy I could finish the match in my way,” said Halep.

The 24-year old Halep, who was a point away from letting her opponent serve for the match, is now into the fourth round of a major for the third major in a row and the ninth time in her career. She will take on the No. 11 seed Carla Suarez Navarro for a spot in the quarterfinals.

Martina Hingis Returns To No. 1 Doubles Ranking – Passing Shots With Kevin Craig

by Kevin Craig

@KCraig_Tennis

  • Bob and Mike Bryan are the No. 3 seeds in the men’s doubles draw at the 2016 Australian Open. The last time the Bryans were seeded lower than No. 2 at a grand slam was at the French Open in 2005, where they would go on to make the final.
  • American Nicole Gibbs was able to qualify for the main draw of the Australian Open without dropping a set. In her three matches, Gibbs was able to win more than half of her return points, 52 percent, allowing her to break her opponents 15 times total.
  • Viktor Troicki was able to defend his title in Sydney, defeating Grigor Dimitrov 2-6, 6-1, 7-6(7). Troicki became the first man to win back to back titles in Sydney since James Blake did so in 2006 and 2007. Prior to his loss in the final, Dimitrov had won 11 consecutive deciding set tiebreakers. The last time Dimitrov had lost a deciding set tiebreak before this was in 2012 against Donald Young in Memphis. The man who holds the record for most deciding set tiebreakers won consecutively is Carlos Moya with 17.
  • In the Simona Halep – Svetlana Kuznetsova semifinal match in Sydney, Halep was able to win almost every statistical category, yet she lost the match. Kuznetsova won 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3, despite winning five less points than Halep did. Kuznetsova went on to win the title, defeating Monica Puig in straight sets in the final.
  • The doubles team of Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza won their 30th match in a row by defeating Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic in the final in Sydney. The longest win streak by a women’s doubles team is held by Jana Novotna and Helena Sukova at 44. With the title, Hingis will join Mirza as co-No. 1 doubles players, seeing Hingis return to No. 1 in the rankings for the first time since 2000.
  • Also in Sydney, Teymuraz Gabashvili was able to make his first ATP semifinal after going 0-16 in ATP quarterfinal matches to start his career.
  • Mikhail Youzhny won his second challenger tournament in a row, defeating Adam Pavlasek in Bangkok, 6-4, 6-1. The win will boost Youzhny back into the Top 100 after having been outside of the Top 150 as recently as November of 2015.
  • Three tournaments in the United States have taken place on the futures circuit in 2016 so far, and each event has seen a different American teen reach the final. Stefan Kozlov won in Los Angeles in the first week of the season, while Tommy Paul won in Plantation and Michael Mmoh lost the final in Long Beach in the second week.

Power Ranger – Halep Uses Deceptive Strength, Apparent Speed To Move Into Semis

Simona Halep

On Wednesday No.  2 seed Simona Halep powered past the taller and stronger Victoria Azarenka, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. Their size difference (Halep is 5-foot-6, 132 pounds; Azarenka 6-foot-0, 148) was referenced earlier in the day by Flavia Pennetta, who also noted that fact’s irrelevance. “It look like she’s not that powerful, but she is,” Pennetta said. “To make a winner to her you have to finish the point seven times. She is always there, always in, the ball is always coming back.” Pennetta and Halep are due for a Friday semifinal showdown. “It is going to be like a marathon,” Pannetta said.

Photo: Chris Nicholson, www.PhotographingTennis.com

What to Watch in the WTA This Week: Bastad and Bad Gastein Previews

Simona Halep brings a remarkable winning streak in pursuit of a fourth straight International title.  This week, a bit more competition might await her than at the three others.

Bastad:

Top half:  The second-ranked Maria Sharapova spent a brief holiday in Sweden this month, but world No. 1 Serena Williams will mix at least some business with pleasure.  One would not have expected to see Serena at an International event on clay rather than her usual US Open Series stop at Stanford.  But her undefeated clay record this year will go on the line against an overmatched group of opponents—on paper, at least.  Sure to collect a huge appearance fee in Bastad, Serena may or may not play with her usual intensity at a tournament that means nothing to her legacy.  The top-ranked junior in the world, Belinda Bencic, stands a win away from facing the top-ranked woman in the world shortly after earning the girls’ singles title at Wimbledon.  Serena’s own disappointment on those lawns may motivate her to bring more imposing form to Bastad than she would otherwise.

The player who came closest to defeating Serena on clay this year, Anabel Medina Garrigues, might await in the quarterfinals.  On the other hand, Medina Garrigues won just two games from projected second-round opponent Dinah Pfizenmaier in Palermo last week.  Also suffering an early exit there was Lara Arruabarrena, a Spaniard who shone briefly this spring.  Arruabarrena joins Lesia Tsurenko among the women vying with third seed Klara Zakopalova for the right to face Serena in the semifinals.  At a similar level of tournament in 2009, Zakopalova outlasted a diffident Serena on the clay of Marbella.

Bottom half:  Grass specialist Tsvetana Pironkova holds the fourth seed in a quarter free from any dirt devils.  Almost anyone could emerge from this section, perhaps even one of Sweden’s top two women.  Johanna Larsson will meet Sofia Arvidsson in the first round, an unhappy twist of fate for home fans.  The lower-ranked of the two, Arvidsson has accumulated the stronger career record overall.

Riding a 15-match winning streak at non-majors, Simona Halep seeks her fourth title of the summer.  She went the distance in consecutive weeks just before Wimbledon, on two different surfaces no less, so an International double on clay would come as no great surprise.  One aging threat and one rising threat jump out of her quarter as possible obstacles.  After reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Flavia Pennetta may have gained the confidence needed to ignite her stagnating comeback.  Assigned an opening test against clay specialist Alexandra Dulgheru, young French sensation Caroline Garcia looks to unlock more of her potential.  And Serena’s notorious assassin, Virginie Razzano, cannot be discounted entirely.

Final:  Serena vs. Halep

Bad Gastein:

Top half:  To be frank, this tournament boasts one of the least impressive fields on the WTA calendar (if “boasts” is the proper word).  On the bright side, Bad Gastein should feature some competitive, unpredictable matches from the first round to the last.  The only top-50 woman in the draw, Mona Barthel will seek her third final of 2013 but her first on clay.  Barthel wields more than enough power to hit through the slow surface, but her patience can be ruffled in adversity.  Her most notable pre-semifinal challenge might come from Kiki Bertens, who won a small title on clay last year.  Barthel has dominated their history, though, including a victory this year.

As she builds on an encouraging Wimbledon, Andrea Petkovic holds the fourth seed in a tournament near home.  Her family traveled with her from Germany before the draw ceremony, images of which appear elsewhere on this site.  A finalist on clay in Nurnberg last month, Petkovic drew one of the tournament’s most notable unseeded players in her opener, Petra Martic.  Just as injuries have undermined Petkovic for many months, mononucleosis has hampered Martic’s progress.  But her balanced game and keen feel for the ball still emerges, making her a greater threat than other players in the section.  Palermo semifinalist Chanelle Scheepers, who solved Martic there, might test Petkovic’s consistency.  Nor should one ignore elite junior Elina Svitolina in the draw’s most compelling section.

Bottom half:  Romanians enjoyed strong results last week, highlighted by Halep’s extended winning streak and semifinals from Alexandra Cadantu and Victor Hanescu.  This week, third seed Irina-Camelia Begu seeks to echo the success of her compatriots as she rebounds from a first-round loss in Palermo.  While her only career title came on a hard court, Begu reached two clay finals in 2011, her best season so far.  Near her stands home hope Yvonne Meusburger, who surprised by reaching the Budapest final.  The star-crossed Arantxa Rus simply hopes to halt the longest losing streak in WTA history, although she has drawn a seeded opponent in Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor.

Yet another rising German, second seed Annika Beck has reached the quarterfinals or better at three International tournaments on clay this year.  Beck can look forward to a second-round meeting with doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka with resurgent Italian Karin Knapp awaiting the winner.  Knapp returned to the top 100 when she exploited an imploding section of the Wimbledon draw to reach the second week.  Her skills suit clay less smoothly than some of the women around her, such as Palermo semifinalist Cadantu.

Final: Petkovic vs. Beck

Simona Halep’s Steady Rise

The transition from the junior to the professional circuit in tennis is never an easy one. Aside from the daunting physical transition between the two circuits, the tennis itself could classify as a different sport. Strategies that are successful on the junior circuit rarely, if ever, translate to winning matches on the WTA and ATP tours. Over the past half-decade, many of the most successful juniors have been relegated to nothing more than journeyman status on the big stage.

Removed from the constraints of the WTA’s Age Eligibility Rules in 2009, Simona Halep made her first career WTA final in 2010, her first top 100 season, but came up short against Iveta Benesova in Fes; she returned to the finals in Fes the following year, but also came out second-best against Alberta Brianti. Halep’s breakthrough began to take shape in the middle of last season, as she reached her biggest career final to date at the Premier event in Brussels before falling to Agnieszka Radwanska; she ended 2012 inside the top 50 at No. 47.

Long considered yet another talented and successful junior whose level on the professional tour had stagnated, Halep’s 2013 has been a revelation. The 21-year-old Romanian, who was the Roland Garros junior champion in 2009, is currently at a career-high ranking of No. 30 in the world and is projected to rise even higher on the back of her performance in Budapest this week.

Halep arrived in 2013 when she had the tournament of her career to date at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in May. She recorded three of the biggest scalps of her career there, as she qualified and defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova, Agnieszka Radwanska and two-time champion Jelena Jankovic to reach the semifinals. Following that performance, Halep finally came out on top in not just one WTA final, but two; her first title came on clay in the inaugural event in Nürnberg and the second came less than a week later on the grass courts of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

Although she has, to this point, mathematically risen just 17 spots in the rankings since the beginning of the year, Halep’s transformation has been more impressive than the numbers suggest.

Having been well-known for what she removed, rather than added, to her game to compete with the big girls, Halep’s on court mentality has undergone a revolution in 2013. The Romanian had previously been at her most content camped out behind the baseline, running corner to corner until her opponent self-imploded. Over the past 12 months, Halep has evolved into more of a classic counterpuncher; she possesses some of the most cleanly produced and technically sound groundstrokes on the WTA Tour. As she is slight of stature, she will never be in complete control of all of the matches she plays, but she now recognizes when she has opportunities to take matches into her hands.

Previously known as a clay-court specialist, Halep’s unwillingness to take the initiative in matches proved to be her undoing on faster surfaces. Winning two titles in less than two weeks on two different surfaces is impressive at any level, but particularly when making the transition from clay to grass. Halep’s most impressive performance during that streak came in the second round in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, when she defeated top-seeded Roberta Vinci while dropping only one game.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wr8I6f3aIYM

Halep might not have the flashy weapons or media attention of some of her contemporaries, but her rise has been the result of nothing more than hard work. However, she has been hindered by unkind draws in slams. First, Halep drew Carla Suarez Navarro in the opening round at Roland Garros. In the most open section of the draw, either player had a chance to make the second week; it was Suarez Navarro who came out on top in a tough three-set affair, and she eventually made the fourth round. Having just missed out on a seeding at Wimbledon, Halep reached the second round before falling to Li Na in another three-set battle.

One impressive run does not a season make, as the WTA rankings reward a balance between consistent performances and notable success. Halep will pass Sorana Cirstea in the rankings on Monday, and will be the Romanian No. 1 for the first time in her career. With a legitimate chance to add to her title haul this weekend in Budapest and going forward, and with two-thirds of the 2013 season in the rearview mirror, Halep’s steady rise makes her one of the leading contenders for the WTA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award.