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WTA Finals — Halep wins, but tennis loses

Matt Zemek

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Robert Deutsch -- USA TODAY Sports

It should have been — could have been — such a great advertisement for women’s tennis. Simona Halep of Romania played Bianca Andreescu of Canada by way of Romania for the first time. These women with a shared heritage met not at a modest tournament, but at the WTA Finals, the WTA Tour’s year-end championship showcase.

This should have been a celebration, and to be sure, the first two sets were highly compelling, with lots of quality sequences and ample displays of the resolve which has made these two women the major champions they are.

Yet, when the full three sets of this match had been completed, it was hard to celebrate what had just happened in Shenzhen, China, the first-year site of the WTA Finals after several years in Singapore.

More precisely, it would be irresponsible to celebrate what took place in this match, particularly the third set.

Both players took medical timeouts after the second set. The third set was a parade of tired shots from worn-down players.

Andreescu had a very hard time bending and stretching to hit shots with full force. On several occasions, she stood straight up and merely shoveled a ball back to Halep with minimal velocity. She was clearly a physically compromised player trying to get through a match without further injury.

If you have followed my tennis writing for at least a full year, you know I highly admire Simona Halep. You know I use the #FIGHTERGIRL hashtag on Twitter. You know I think Halep has frequently been handed unfair and excessive criticism, that she is held to standards less accomplished players aren’t measured against. She has also been treated poorly by the organizers of major tournaments, particularly Roland Garros.

I defend Halep a lot. I would not argue that I am a Halep apologist.

Yet, and this takes nothing away from Halep, I won’t celebrate Simona’s three-set win over Andreescu or hold it high as an example of her fighting spirit.

This doesn’t mean Halep doesn’t deserve credit for fighting to win this match. She dug very deep to win the second set, which was the high point of the match. Halep did earn this victory. She did reveal, again, her marvelous fighting qualities.

However, we who comment on tennis in a professional capacity have a responsibility to not celebrate this “warrior spectacle,” in which it is clear that a court has been made so slow that it is hard to hit winners, and players are therefore challenged to work a lot more to win points, games, sets, and matches.

We are confronted with the reality that Bianca Andreescu’s health is once again a point of concern. I won’t be a Twitter doctor and make any statements about the severity of her condition; I will only note that she was physically limited enough to notice, and that her limitations played a role in shaping the final outcome of this match.

This is bad enough. This is sufficient to call Monday night’s match in Shenzhen a bad moment for tennis.

Yet, that wasn’t the whole story.

There were hardly any people in the arena for the second half of this match, possibly a product of logistical limitations for any of the paying spectators, possibly a commentary on the local market’s appetite for the product.

At any rate, this was the best opening match on paper — easily the most anticipated of the four matches spread across the two groups at the 2019 WTA Finals — and there were MAYBE 2,000 people in the building when this match ended.

Simona Halep won. Full credit to her. She did everything she could, everything she was asked to.

Yet, tennis lost, and more will be said on these subjects in additional articles here at Tennis With An Accent.

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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 radioinfluence.com. 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: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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