Simona Halep enjoys rapid rise up the rankings - Tennis - Sport - The Independent

Simona Halep enjoys rapid rise up the rankings

Heather Watson’s next opponent will soon be known for more than an old surgical procedure

Wim Fissette, the coach of Simona Halep, understands that much of the media interest in his charge has focused on an operation she underwent five years ago. The 22-year-old Romanian, who faces Britain’s Heather Watson in the second round of the French Open here today, had breast reduction surgery when she was just 17 because she felt her body was hampering her tennis progress.

“It has been an important part of her career,” Fissette, a Belgian who used to coach Kim Clijsters, said. “I guess it was the right decision. I did not see her then. I have seen some photos, but she took that decision and it was a good one. I understand that.

“Also in the Belgian newspapers it is the same thing. That’s why she was famous. Let’s hope she will win a Grand Slam and then they will start talking about the Grand Slams and not something else.”

Win a Grand Slam? For those who follow tennis only casually that might seem like a bold suggestion, but Halep is No 4 in the world rankings and has won more titles in the last 12 months than any woman other than Serena Williams. With the world’s No 1 and  No 2 players (Williams and Li Na) having already made their exit from the current tournament, Agnieszka Radwanska is the only higher-ranked player left in the draw here.

It was after a loss in the first round at this tournament last year, to Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro, that Halep, then the world No 57 and without a title to her name, embarked on a remarkable run. In the next six months she won tournaments in Nuremberg, ’s-Hertogenbosch, Budapest, New Haven, Moscow and Sofia.

This year she has added the title in Doha, lost to Maria Sharapova in the final in Madrid and made the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, where she lost to the eventual runner-up, Dominika Cibulkova.

Halep won tournaments last year on hard courts, clay and grass. She said she would love to win Wimbledon because the tournament was so special but said she found grass “very fast”.

Asked which Grand Slam tournament might give her the best chance of success, she said: “It’s tough to say. I like the French Open, but I think I have a better chance to win on hard courts.”

Romania has produced a number of successful players. Ilie Nastase was the first men’s No 1 following the introduction of world rankings in 1973. Virginia Ruzici, who is now Halep’s manager, won the 1978 French Open. Ion Tiriac, a contemporary of Nastase’s who became one of the biggest movers and shakers in tennis, has helped Halep with wild cards in his capacity as the owner of the Madrid tournament.

Halep spent the first 16 years of her life in Constanta, on the Black Sea. Her own sporting hero was Gheorghe Hagi, the greatest footballer in Romanian history. Her father, Stere, was a professional footballer in Romania with the Sageata Stejaru club.

Ioan Stan, a tennis coach in Constanta, guided Halep’s career from the time when she first picked up a racket at the age of four. Corneleu Idu, the owner of the main tennis club in Constanta, provided crucial sponsorship when she was a teenager.

Halep eventually moved to Bucharest, the Romanian capital. “We do not have many coaches in Constanta and once I got to 16 it was not possible for me to stay there,” she recalled. “You just don’t have many players to practise with. I went to Bucharest because there are a lot of players there.”

Having become the world junior No 1 and won the girls’ title at the French Open, Halep took the bold decision to have the breast reduction surgery. Standing just 5ft 6in tall and weighing 9st 6lb, she is now regarded as one of the best athletes in the women’s game.

Halep in 2008 before she underwent breast reduction surgery (Getty) Halep in 2008 before she underwent breast reduction surgery (Getty)
“She has footballers’ legs,” Fissette commented. “She is fast, she moves very lightly on the court, she always has very good balance and she makes very smart choices on the court.”

He added that she did not have a weakness. “She is very intelligent on court,” he said. “When things are not going right, she is trying to find a solution by herself. Especially on changeovers you see her thinking.”

Watson, who lost to Halep in three sets at the US Open last year, knows all about the Romanian’s ability. “She’s come up through the rankings very quickly,” the Briton said. “I’m not surprised at that because she’s got a good game. She’s very solid and makes a lot of balls.”

Until she started working with Fissette earlier this year, Halep had learned only from Romanian coaches. “I am made by Romania 100 per cent and that’s why I wanted to change something, to see how it is in other countries,” Halep said.

“He [Fissette] hasn’t come to Bucharest yet, but I think he will come after the French Open to practise there. So far we’ve only trained at tournaments and for a few days before them. He has told me many things that I now see in other ways from before. It’s good preparation and I hope we will make more results together. He is young and he has the energy to train me and to speak with me.”

Success has brought widespread recognition in her home country. “People recognise me on the streets,” Halep said. “They congratulate me and say nice words. I’m enjoying this moment of my life because it’s the best. I hope I will improve more in my game to be better and better day by day.”

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
News
i100
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week