It is the time of year where the tennis world looks back at the season just gone and ahead to what awaits in 2019. With the WTA Tour having concluded earlier this month, Simona Halep is guaranteed to head into the new year as the World No.1 – just as she did this time 12 months ago.
The Romanian did not get off to the best of starts in 2017, exiting the Australian Open in the second round amid struggles with a knee injury. She improved at the French Open, reaching the final but losing in three sets to underdog Jelena Ostapenko; despite that defeat, Halep still climbed to second in the world at the end of the competition. She continued to close the gap on No.1 Garbine Muguruza in the weeks that followed, before eventually rising to the summit of the women’s game when the Spaniard suffered an early elimination from the China Open.
Halep therefore began 2018 as the player to beat in the women’s game. She began the season in perfect fashion with victory at the Shenzen Open, where Katerina Siniakova was beaten 6-1, 2-6, 6-0. The then-26-year-old carried her fine form into the Australian Open, where she defeated Destanee Aiava, Genie Bouchard, Lauren Davis, Naomi Osaka, Karolina Pliskova and Angelique Kerber en route to a clash with Caroline Wozniacki in the tournament showpiece. Halep lost the first set 7-6 but recovered to take the title by winning the second 6-3 and the third 6-4.
The 2018 French Open was added to her honours list later in the year. Halep was up against it in her first-round match against Alison Riske, losing the first set 6-2 to the unseeded American, but she held her nerve and recovered to take the next two sets 6-1, 6-1. Taylor Townsend and were then dismissed in straight sets in the second and third rounds respectively, which is the same fate that awaited Elise Mertens in the fourth round. Kerber provided tougher opposition in the quarter-finals but Halep triumphed 6-7, 6-3, 6-2, before getting the better of Muguruza in the last four. Sloane Stephens took the first set in the final, but the Romanian came roaring back to win the next two sets 6-4, 6-1.
Wimbledon did not go as well for Halep, who was knocked out in the third round by Hsieh Su-wei. She bounced back to win the Canadian Open in August and then reached the final of the Western and Southern Open, but her season ending in disappointing fashion with a first-round defeat in the US Open. Despite that shock loss, she had done enough throughout the year to ensure another end-of-season No.1 ranking.
“Yes, the best one,” Halep said in October when asked if the 2018 season was the pinnacle of her career so far.
“Winning a Grand Slam and finishing No.1 – I think it is the most that I could ask for. I had also tough moments, because in Melbourne it was really tough to go over and to come back stronger. Also, I’m proud that I could come back stronger and I could make a better result. So I think definitely, actually, is the best year of my career.”
Halep will not rest on her laurels, though, and we can expect the 27-year-old Romanian to enjoy plenty more success in 2019.