Why Too Much Simona Halep May Not Be A Good Thing
LONDON -- Over the past two years, Simona Halep was a revelation.
The diminutive Romanian won 11 titles since the start of 2013, vaulted into the top 10 and reached at least the quarterfinals of the first three Grand Slam events in 2014.
Her ranking rose to No. 2 last August and she was the WTA's No. 3 player coming into this fortnight at the All England Club.
But this year, Halep, like Canada's Eugenie Bouchard, has struggled to back it up. Tuesday she lost a first-round match to the No. 106-ranked player, Jana Cepelova of Slovakia, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3. Last year, Halep made it all the way to the semifinals. When this year's stay was over, she couldn't get off the court quickly enough.
When asked what happened, Halep bit her lip.
"At the moment, I have no reaction," she said. "I have no expectations for this tournament. I knew it would be difficult for me, but I didn't expect to lose just now.
"I had losses. My confidence wasn't too high. It's tough to explain what I feel now."
Doing the math, Halep won 15 matches in the first three Slams a year ago, peaking in Paris, where she made the French Open final. This year, the total is five.
After winning only one match combined at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, it's time to wonder if she's playing too many matches. In her pre-tournament news conference, Halep was asked about the difficulties she and Bouchard have encountered after breaking through dramatically in 2014.
"It's difficult to keep going the good results, to feel good every tournament, every year in row," Halep said. "I did it for two years already. I had good results. And this year, in the beginning had good results as well. But in the middle, I was a little bit maybe tired mentally and maybe that's why I lost on clay season."
Indeed, Halep played 62 matches last year. This season she's 32-9 and her win total is fifth highest among WTA players. Unlike Bouchard, who will fall out of the top 20, Halep could stay at No. 3 or drop to No. 6, depending on how Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic and Lucie Safarova fare.
Halep admitted she has had some difficulty handling the expectations of being a top-five player, which makes her "nervous" when she has to finish matches.
"Which is why I'm so stressed," she said. "Emotion(ally) I wasn't there. I couldn't handle it very well. I can say I let her play aggressive. Emotional inside power, it's not there 100 percent.
"The life is not every time nice and good with you, but I have enough power to go ahead and think about what I need to do better. I need a holiday, and for sure I will get it."
Meanwhile, how far has Cepelova come? At last year's US Open, she lost to Halep 6-2, 6-1 in a 56-minute match. She's a more-than-respectable 4-3 for her young career at Wimbledon, and this victory will bring her approximately $74,000 -- more than she's already made all season long.
Certainly, Cepelova is not afraid of the big moment; she's 2-2 against top-five players, having beaten No. 1-ranked Serena Williams last year in Charleston.