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Australian Open

Simona Halep Wins Even As She Loses

Matt Zemek



Geoff Burke -- USA TODAY Sports

Irony is a constant reality of life. All the time, our lives get turned upside-down in some way. Our expectations and perceptions are constantly thwarted and challenged. In global theaters of politics and policy, we witness overwhelming ironies which often anger us and make us wonder why human beings can’t be more honest or accountable.

Irony is often bitter and painful, but we — as human beings — need to learn to live with it. Otherwise, it will oppress us and drag us into a very dark place.

Simona Halep knows how to live with irony. Accordingly, she knows so much more about the wisdom of going to a place of happiness rather than bitterness after the tough three-set loss she absorbed against Serena Williams at the Australian Open.

That’s the face of a losing player? That’s the response of someone whose pursuit of a first hardcourt major championship was again thwarted by Serena, much like the 2016 U.S. Open quarterfinals?

Those are the words of a player who just lost over 1,000 WTA rankings points? That is the perspective of a player who is on the verge of ceding her No. 1 ranking to Naomi Osaka, Elina Svitolina, or Petra Kvitova, if results break in a specific direction over the next few days?

Again, Simona Halep knows how to live with irony. She has accumulated wisdom in her time on tour, and more precisely, as a result of her 2018 reign atop the WTA Tour.

Halep might have lost a big-stage match. She might soon lose her No. 1 ranking. Yet, she knows that she probably won’t have to face Serena this early in tournaments anymore, which is a good thing for her. She also knows that if she accordingly gets an easier draw at Roland Garros and other major tournaments in 2019, her game has a good chance of being up to the task.

Most of all, though, Simona Halep knows that the very match which might cause her to lose her World No. 1 ranking was a magnificent demonstration of how hard-earned and richly-deserved her No. 1 status truly was.

Irony lives… but in a way Halep has accepted. She should accept it, and she is wise enough to know that.

Halep had the No. 1 seed at this tournament, but Serena is Number One in a much broader and more cosmic sense, and a 20-minute first-set beatdown showed why. Halep has encountered plenty of instances in her career — Naomi Osaka in the Indian Wells semifinals being a prominent example from 2018 — in which a bigger hitter blasted her off the court. Sometimes, it’s just not your day, but a World No. 1 player has to find ways to change the conversation, if s/he is truly worthy of that ranking.

Halep — who won 43 of her first 50 matches in 2018 — showed how much she had evolved. She limited the instances in which opponents successfully steamrolled her. She found solutions. She survived. She coped with difficult opponents and the grind of the tour.

Now, though, at the start of 2019, she lived without a coach. She didn’t have Darren Cahill in the coaches’ box. She wasn’t entirely sure how her body would respond to elite competition after a series of losses and the back problems which accompanied them in late 2018.

Why is she so able to accept this loss? She knows she answered “yes” to the many difficult questions placed before her.

This is how a No. 1 player — if forced to give up her No. 1 ranking — relinquishes her crown.

Simona Halep might soon cease to be No. 1. The match which caused her to hand the reins of power to someone else in women’s tennis will be remembered as an occasion which showed how much Halep deserved that No. 1 pedestal in the first place.

Irony lives… in a way Simona Halep can accept with a smile.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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