Wimbledon 2019: Halep faces her ultimate test in a formidable Serena

I am the best version of myself and I am desperate to win Wimbledon, says the Romanian

Serena Williams never forgets her losses. Asked to reflect on her past duels with Simona Halep ahead of Saturday’s Wimbledon final, she didn’t pick any of the nine victories, but chose the solitary defeat, back in 2014 at the WTA Finals in Singapore.

Halep had thrashed Serena 6-0, 6-2 in the round-robin stage. It didn’t matter that Serena returned the favour within days, bagel included, in the final. The defeat is still the point of reference, as she looks to tie Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Majors. “The key in our matches is that loss,” the 37-year-old said. “She played unbelievable. That tells me that the level she played at, she can get there again. So, I have to be better than that.”

Calm but crystal-clear

Apart from providing a fascinating insight into how Serena prepares for her biggest matches, it was indicative of her calm but crystal-clear thinking. With the body in sync — this is the fittest she has looked since returning from maternity break at the 2018 French Open — Serena seems primed for the success that eluded her in the finals at Wimbledon and US Open last year. “Looking back, to even be in those finals last year was unbelievable,” she said. “Now I am in a different place. I just am more calm. Instead of having nothing to lose, I feel like I have things to lose. I really want to do it. It is not really about 24 or 23 or 25. It’s really about giving my best effort no matter what.”

For Halep it will be the ultimate test, but there are signs that she has started embracing such enormous challenges. She always had the tennis; someone who made a French Open final and Wimbledon semifinal back-to-back (2014) is not to be trifled with. But questions about her mental make-up abounded as she struggled to back that up with a breakthrough at a Major.

Quietly confident

The 2018 French Open, where she won her maiden title, has changed things and she is quietly confident. It has reflected on the court this past two weeks, as she has repeatedly cut to size formidable opponents. The 27-year-old has moved as well as anybody on grass and on current form appears best placed to stonewall Serena’s incredible ability to hit through the court.

“Compared to 2014, I have more experience and I am positive,” Halep said. “I don’t give up anymore. Right now, I am the best version of myself and feel stronger mentally. It’s a great feeling to face Serena in a Slam final. If you are able to win, it makes it sweeter. I am desperate to win Wimbledon more than stopping her [from getting the record].”

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