Simona Halep and the mind game

Simona Halep’s breakthrough season in 2013 would have been difficult to beat or emulate for any tennis player; she finished the season with six titles and ranked number eleven in the world. What was more impressive was that she achieved all of this in the second half of the season.

When Halep started out her 2014 season, all eyes were on the Romanian rocket to see if she was “the real deal” and where her excellent work ethic and results would take her. Many believed that her results in 2013 would be too difficult to emulate and a fall in the rankings was highly possible, however 2014 has been full of amazing highs, catapulting her to the World Number Two ranking and a French Open final. An early qualification into the WTA Finals in Singapore has also cemented what a tremendous year she has had, but since the US Open, where she lost in the third round to an inspired Mirjana Lucic Baroni, Halep has felt the pressure and it has started to affect her game.

The problem is not her technique or her tactics; it’s much more complicated than that as it’s all in her mind. Halep’s rise to the elite tennis table has been publicised greatly, especially in Romania, where the media spoke about her chances of upsetting more favoured players or reaching the finals. However, at the US Open, after taking Maria Sharapova to three sets in the French Open Finals, the media now spoke of Halep with a sense of expectation. At number two in the world, Simona was not only expected to go far in the tournament, but to make the final and even win it.

Moreover, Halep will have been aware of not only the change of perception to her by the media, but also there will have been a swift change in perception as to how her sponsors, the WTA tour, rivals and Romanian Federation viewed her and acted towards her. As much as a player can try to keep her focus and not be involved in business outside of the court; tournament privileges, expectation of tournament organisers and sponsors would’ve change around her too. Simona Halep could not escape the thoughts that much was to be expected of her in New York.

Since hitting the finals of the French Open, semi-finals of Wimbledon and winning her home title in Bucharest; Simona Halep has won matches but crunch clashes or closely run matches have proven difficult as the pressure of self-expectation has dogged her fluidity of shot, aggressive counter punch and movement around the court. At first glance, to be allowed the luxury of self-expectation is a good place to be in as it means she is a success at her craft; Halep is not looking for the magic winning formula to start winning matches – she is a winner already. However, Simona Halep is having to find the inner peace that will allow her the fluidity in her winning game and free up the mind of expectation.

The World Number two is currently playing in Beijing, and although at a Premier Mandatory event, her thoughts will be on the WTA Finals in Singapore where she will face off against the top eight players in the world. It is at these championships where her mettle will be tested and her sense of belonging amongst the elite relished. It is therefore important that whilst playing Beijing amongst a tough field she finds that true belief which comes to terms with her own self expectation.

Few players in the history of the game have achieved such degree of comfort with their own self expectation. Those who have win Grand Slams and defend their status and titles when required to do so. Simona Halep is one of those players who can become comfortable with such self expectation every time she steps on court. Simona Halep is also one of those players who when not fulfilling her own self-expectation, can channel the frustration and anger positively to make her mark on the next tournament.

There is no doubt that 2014 has been a testing season for Simona Halep. Her rise amongst the best tested and bettered by firmly placing herself amongst the elite of the game. A celebrated yet disappointing Grand Slam final at the French Open fuelled her rise on the grass courts of Wimbledon to make the semi-finals. Her six titles won in 2013 have fuelled two further titles in 2014 AND delivered the best results on the biggest stages of the world. Halep has proven she possesses the self-belief that conquers self-expectation. No matter what her result in Beijing, Halep will be a threat at the WTA finals and will look to rise further in 2015.


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