By Jane Voigt
October 22, 2014 — It’s hard to be number one. There’s always a target on your back. And Serena Williams has felt it all before.
Yet today she could not dodge Simona Halep’s mastery. Their match was dramatic for many reasons, the most important one being Williams lost, and lost badly — 6-0 6-2.
The scoreline was her worst showing since 1998 in Oklahoma, according to The New York Times, at a tournament never quoted or mentioned except in today’s context. It just doesn’t happen to Serena Williams in this dominant of fashion.
From the first game through to the last Halep ran the legs off Williams, yanking her left and right, up and back, employing a nearly flawless strategy, anticipating shots, maneuvering with alacrity. Early in the second, Serena looked to reverse the tide. She roared with self-approval, after winning a difficult point. But Halep crushed her joy with an exquisite running cross-court backhand winner.
“It was actually embarrassing,” Williams said, as reported on Twitter by Matt Cronin. “I think that describes the way I played. Very embarrassing.”
Serena looked tired and old, as if this were the real coming-of-age opponent, this five-foot-six Romanian who had lost in the first round of Roland Garros in 2013 and now stood across the net from the 18-time Grand Slam Champion as the No. 4 seed as if it were nothing, a non-occassion.
Certainly Halep had her hands full, though. Her concentration was perfect in an imperfect sport. Williams earned a miserly 9 points in the first set.
“It’s my biggest match in my life,” Halep told fans on court immediately after her victory. “I’m just really happy. Cannot explain. Of course we love you guys; thank you very much for your support. I have to forget this [match] to continue the tournament.”
Halep’s win was her first over a top-3 opponent. She broke Williams’ 16-0 winning streak, which was a record at the WTA Finals. Additionally, Halep put an end to Williams’ perfect 9-0 record of wins over top-10 players.
“It wasn’t her best day,” Halep added, before leaving the court. “I took the balls quickly. I opened the court well. I fought for every point.”
Williams had 36 unforced errors and 11 winners. She struck 7 double faults, as well. Her technique was sloppy, which stemmed from poor footwork and what seemed to be a slow awareness of what was happening to her. She won 48% of points off her first serve and 29% off her second.
“My serve was at best in 10-and-under division in juniors,” Serena said, as reported by Matt Cronin on Twitter.
The win for Halep puts her on top in her Red Group, with a 2-0 match record. It should also secure a position in the semifinals, if Ana Ivanovic defeats Eugenie Bouchard in three sets later this evening in Singapore. Halep would become only the fourth player to win the tournament on her debut. The other three are: Serena Williams (2001), Maria Sharapova (2004) and Petra Kvitova (2011).
The loss for Williams does not eliminate her threat of taking the title. She has one more round-robin match versus Bouchard. The trick for Williams, though, will be to stay away from the mental crushing Halep levied today.
After Alize Cornet ousted Serena at Wimbledon, she went down a dark rabbit hole. USA Today reported that sister Isha Price said Serena was, “sad and emotional,” after the loss. Serena displayed the most bizarre behavior from an athlete in a doubles match with sister Venus a few days later. The two retired after a couple games, Serena being helped off court by tournament officials. The WTA called her condition a ‘viral’ one.