Dominant 20: Nadia Comaneci's joy while watching Simona Halep win a major

Thibault Camus/AP Photo

Halep, who had lost two previous finals at Roland Garros, defeated Sloane Stephens at this year's French Open to win her first grand slam event.

Simona Halep is No. 9 on ESPN The Magazine's list of the most dominant athletes of the year. Click here for more on the Dominant 20. Subscribe today!

Whenever my schedule allows, I try to sneak a couple of days to go and see Simona play. This year I wanted to be in Paris. Every Romanian on the planet wanted to be there, to see Simona win that title she wanted for a long time. She missed it the first time at the 2014 French Open final. And she missed it last year; I was there. I almost pulled the Romanian flag out because she was up 3-0 in the second set and I thought, "She's got this." And it just didn't happen.

This year I watched her win in the semifinals on TV, and I told my husband, Bart [Conner], "I gotta go, because I think she's gonna win this." The flight from Oklahoma was late, of course, and I had to go directly to the stadium. I would have felt so bad if I hadn't made that effort. I witnessed what I wanted: the first one. [Retired Romanian soccer star] Gheorghe Hagi was there too -- our entire Romanian "team." We went to a restaurant, popped champagne with her family and close friends.

Christophe Ena/AP Photo

Five-time Olympic gold medalist Comaneci tries to watch Halep whenever her schedule allows. Last year, the pair went shopping and caught a Broadway show at the U.S. Open.

Her win is great for Romanian kids to understand they don't have to be born somewhere else to be the best. Anybody can do it if they work hard. It's good because Simona is active now. The rest of us, we're past. The young generation knows who we are because of their parents and because of, thank goodness, YouTube, but when they see a current athlete who is No. 1, it pushes them to pick up a racket and ask: "Why not me? I may be the one." Something I didn't know 40 years ago when I was competing is that everybody we meet, from the music world or Hollywood, they have so much respect for athletes, because you don't get there overnight.

Simona tries to be a perfectionist, but you can't be perfect on the first try. It takes patience. Now, for her, the hard work starts. Where will she go from No. 1? It takes a lot more work to stay there because everybody behind her is hungry to get her down. The fans will always ask: "When is she going to win the second one?" And then it's going to be the third. It's never-ending. She is the one who needs to find that in her, how hungry she is.

I'm really proud of what Simona has done, for her, for the country, the fact that she put tennis back on the map in Romania, because a lot of little ones are picking up a racket and smacking the walls. Romanian people, they live to taste that kind of success. 

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