Not every match victory is — or can be — a huge statement. Not every moment in a season is profoundly vital to a career. February tennis — without a Premier Mandatory event on the WTA Tour or a Masters 1000 on the ATP Tour — generally does not deliver earth-shaking occurrences.
February tennis offers occasions of quiet reinforcement, when players coming off a less-than-spectacular Australian Open seek reassurance about their quality of play and the way they approach the sport as professionals.
For Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep, Thursday in Doha at the Qatar Open provided that moment of reinforcement.
Pushed hard by dangerous opponents, Kerber and Halep both won high-pressure tiebreakers to close out difficult matches. Kerber’s tiebreaker was a match tiebreaker — she outlasted Barbora Strycova in three sets. Halep won a pair of breakers to see off Julia Goerges in straight sets after Goerges served for the second set and gained a 5-2 lead in the second-set breaker.
These are not thunderous verdicts on the winners or the losers, but they provide added momentum to the winners and saddle the losers with added weight. Goerges, in particular, has once again failed to serve out a second set this year. She failed to serve out the second set of her first-round Australian Open match, which led to Danielle Collins’ surprising run all the way to the semifinals in Melbourne. Goerges has to once again climb over this obstacle in her career, but this doesn’t destroy her season. She will have plenty of opportunities to bounce back.
On the other side of the divide, Kerber and Halep aren’t now guaranteed to thrive at the highest levels of the WTA Tour throughout 2019, but these wins offer a small nudge in the right direction. These wins are not worthy of a huge trumpet fanfare, but they matter on their own granular level. They both represent instances in which Kerber and Halep can both say to themselves, “We are going through transitions in our coaching situations. We both won a major last year. We both put in a lot of hard work. Is our level of tennis still capable of making semifinals and producing quality results? It seems that it is.”
A quiet “Yes, we can still do this” is what all athletes need. In this modest tennis month of February, Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep just gained a positive experience they can continue to build on in the weeks and months ahead.