Reem Abulleil explains how Simona Halep went from being the sentimental favourite to the people's champion with her Roland Garros triumph.
You can tell how huge Simona Halep’s victory at the French Open means not from her own response to it but from the emotional reaction of the public, her fellow players, and people around her.
The ‘SI-MO-NA’ chants took over Roland Garros on Saturday, and even somehow made their way into her press conference. Twitter exploded with congratulatory messages from her peers – but they weren’t your standard mandatory cordial props.
“CONGRATULATIONS, Simona – is what I‘m trying to say and thank you for teaching us all,” said Andrea Petkovic, who lost to Halep in the third round here in Paris last week.
“For all the haters who said she‘ll never win a Slam because she‘s mentally weak, go choke on that. Everyone has their own timing and supposed failures are often just stepping stones in an individual‘s life,” continued the German.
Russia’s Elena Vesnina posted: “Simonaa! You deserve this title more than anyone @rolandgarros. Huge congratulations!”
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova messaged Halep after the Romanian lost last year’s French Open final to Jelena Ostapenko. She consoled her and told her, “it’s coming”.
The Czech texted her against after he win on Saturday and congratulated her.
Daria Gavrilova simply posted a tweet with Halep’s name and a crying face emoji, followed by applause.
People have been emotionally invested in Halep’s journey over the past 12 months and the 26-year-old made sure her tale has come full circle.
From blowing a set and a break lead against an unseeded Ostapenko in the Paris final last year, to coming back from a set and a break down against Sloane Stephens on the very same court on Saturday… The fact that she gets to walk away with the bigger trophy this time is what can be described as a perfectly-scripted ended to this one-year chapter of her career.
It’s how a sports movie would unfold except this isn’t cheesy fiction; this is an incredibly inspiring reality.
People felt her heartbreak after Roland Garros last year, then saw her heart on full display during her physically-gruelling run to the Australian Open final last January. She was 0-3 in Slam finals and almost everyone’s sentimental favourite.
When Halep stood on the podium on centre court hugging her trophy, she glanced at Stephens, who motioned to her to lift it high up in celebration.
“Show the world your trophy. You have been waiting for this. So you better put it up in the air and show them what you got today,” a classy Stephens later said in her press conference of that moment.
“I think she’s had a tough journey. I think winning here is very special for her and I’m glad she finally got her first slam. It’s a beautiful thing, very special. No matter how hard the adversity that you go through, there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m glad she finally got her light,” added the US Open champion.
Halep’s team have witnessed firsthand what she has gone through to finally become a Grand Slam winner. Virginia Ruzici, who was the only Romanian woman to win a major before Halep matched her achievement, has been in Halep’s corner for many years as a manager and confidante.
It’s been exactly 40 years since Ruzici lifted the French Open trophy. She was in the stands watching Halep on Saturday.
“To me, it tells her that she did it because she’s big. She’s a big champion. She’s huge,” said Ruzici after Halep’s win.
“I like her modesty. She’s down to earth. She treats people all equal. These are important qualities, and she’s very honest. Also with her team and her friends, she’s really fantastic.”
Halep’s honesty, be it on the court or off it, is what captured people’s attention. In success and failure, she showed how she felt and articulated her most complex feelings. Her lowest moments struck a chord with so many people out there.
“I know it’s just a tennis match, but it’s not really just a tennis match, because this is what we sweat blood and tears and this is what it’s all about for us,” her coach Darren Cahill said.
In her champion’s press conference, Halep told us how difficult it’s been sitting in that chair every tournament having to talk about whether she would ever become a Grand Slam winner.
“Honestly, that’s the toughest thing,” she confessed.
She will now be sitting in that chair as a world No. 1 and Grand Slam champion. It’s hard to think of anyone at this moment who deserves it more.