Sunday in Sofia, Simona Halep managed to defeat Sam Stosur for the third time this year. More importantly, the win brought the Romanian a huge title, as the match was the final of the Tournament of Champions. Six of the best players in the world that had won at least one tournament in 2013 participated.
The two women met for the first time back in 2010, in the first round of the Roland Garros. The Australian won in two sets. One year later, fate confronted them against each other once more, and Sam won again in the second round at Paris, Halep only managing to win two games in that match. Their match history then recorded a withdrawal from Simona last year at Montreal, a massive change unfolding before the two met the last three times, this year.
2013 was the year in which Halep "exploded". The 22 year old from Constanța managed to climb from 47th in the WTA rankings all the way to 11th, the place which she occupies right now. In this period of time, she has won six tournaments. Nurnberg, 's-Hertogenbosch, Budapest, New Haven, Moscow and now Sofia bowed down to the young Romanian, and her tennis level shows that she won't stop climbing up soon.
A regular presence in the final phases of big tournaments and a top 20 player for many years, former world number 4 Stosur admired Simona's coming of age herself: "When I played her at the French Open a couple of times... She's improved a lot since then, that's for sure. She's grown in confidence, obviously she's had a great year and when you get that kind of confidence behind you just feel like you can't lose."
The only Romanian woman to win a Grand Slam, Virginia Ruzici has been part of Halep's team for five years now, acting as her manager. She was present in Sofia at the match, as was another big Romanian name in tennis, Ilie Năstase. "Ever since she won the juniors title at Roland Garros I saw she had something special. Simona had potential to be a top 10 player," Ruzici stated for the WTA website.
Asked whether she thinks Simona has what it takes to win a Grand Slam in her career, Ruzici - winner at Roland Garros in 1978 - said: "We should take is slowly, one day at a time. I saw her potential when she won the junior title and after the impressive year she's had now, I think she will be a top 5 player. If injuries elude her and she handles pressure well, she can win a Grand Slam title."
"She's capable of winning on any surface. She can adapt very quickly, but probably clay is her best shot at winning a Grand Slam," Ruzici added. The fact was clear to see this year, as Halep managed to win tournaments on all surfaces - clay, grass, hard and indoors.
Records and numbers speak for themselves too in this story of the young player. Simona can become only the third Romanian player to break in the top 10 after Virginia Ruzici (no. 8) and Irina Spîrlea (no.7). Furthermore, in a ranking of players with the most matches won in 2013, Halep is ranked third with 53 victories, one of only five players to have won more than 50 matches. All of this despite the fact that Simona's results in the first part of the year were very disappointing. However, the statistic that stands out the most is that only Serena Williams has won more tournaments this year than Halep (11 to Halep's 6).
For Simona, a short vacation break is in order. After that, she will begin her training for the season openers. "I want to enjoy the moment and relax in my vacation," the Romanian said. "I hope next year I can play as well as I did now and have a good tournament in Australia." Halep can climb up even more in the WTA rankings, as she doesn't have many points to defend in the first part of the season.
A charismatic and calm figure, she has caught the eye of fans all around the world with her performances this year and was a breath of fresh air for sport in Romania. Without doubt, Simona Halep was the country's Sports Personality of the Year, her World Tour success being admired all over the globe.