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Halep title in Dubai was a display of staying power

Matt Zemek



Robert Deutsch - USA TODAY Sports

Simona Halep probably doesn’t know the name Bo Schembechler, but one of the more famous football coaches in American history would admire what Simo accomplished in Dubai this past week on the WTA Tour.

Schembechler came to the University of Michigan in 1969, being asked to revive a proud football program which had fallen on troubled times. He told his first Michigan team in 1969, “Those who stay will be champions.”

Those who don’t quit, who fight to the end, who persevere in the midst of tumult and turmoil, will succeed.

“Those who stay will be champions” became a mantra posted in the locker room of Michigan football teams in subsequent years. Schembechler spent two full decades as Michigan’s coach, restoring glory and honor to the Wolverines.

He is an iconic football coach with a permanent and secure place in the annals of American sports history. He displayed considerable staying power.

Simona Halep displayed that staying power in Dubai, en route to a title won by an eyelash against the electric shotmaking of Elena Rybakina on Saturday.

Halep and Rybakina stared at each other, 5-5 in the final-set tiebreaker. Halep won the final two points to lift the trophy and solidify her spot as World No. 2 on the WTA Tour.

Given that World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty has both Miami and Roland Garros titles to defend in the coming months, and given that Karolina Pliskova (No. 3) has a Miami runner-up to defend, with No. 4 Bianca Andreescu having to defend a title at Indian Wells, Halep is in great position to take back World No. 1 by mid-June. She should be in the top two for many more months this year.

That is staying power.

Halep stayed in the arena in Dubai. She stayed in the fight. She got dusted by Ons Jabeur, Aryna Sabalenka, and — on Saturday — by Rybakina in the first set of multiple matches this past week. She shrugged off all of those slow starts and built on her semifinal showing in Australia.

Halep had set points against Garbine Muguruza in that Australian Open semifinal, but didn’t convert. In Dubai, she won the tipping-point moments which didn’t break her way in Melbourne.

Rybakina has been the breakout player of the season. Kenin was the breakout star of the Australian Open and is the player who has gained the most from the first several weeks of the WTA year. Muguruza is the player who has done the most to restore a previously luminous career profile.

Halep exists in a separate world, relative to all of those players. She isn’t the youngster coming out of nowhere (Rybakina). She isn’t the relatively young player who was expected to take the next step this season (Kenin). She never really lost her previously glowing reputation on tour as Muguruza did.

Simona Halep is maintaining her lofty place on tour.

Staying power. That is the story of Simo so far in 2020.

Those who stay will be champions, in Dubai or anywhere else.

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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