The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Lindsay Gibbs, July 16, 2019

Simona wins Wimbledon — what's next for Serena — Must-read links

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Simona’s triumph

So, look, I thought that Simona Halep had a shot to beat Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final on Saturday. I did not think that she was going to play one of the best tennis matches I’ve ever seen anyone play and absolutely dismantle Serena’s game in a 6-2, 6-2 triumph.

Usually, I don’t enjoy straightforward matches that take under an hour unless Venus Williams is the winner. But this was, honestly, breathtaking. She served well. She crushed her returns, with depth and pace. She not was able to run and retrieve practically every single ball that Serena hit, but she got to these balls with time to spare, which gave her time to transition her defense into offense on the response. The court coverage, the line painting, the confidence with which she hit every single shot is something that I will think about for years to come.

I love that Simona called it a perfect match. Because that’s exactly what it was.

It’s remarkable to think that not so long in the past — like, say, 13 months ago — the narrative around Simona was that she didn’t have the mental fortitude to win a Grand Slam. She lost the first three major finals she was in: the 2014 French Open final to Maria Sharapova, 4–6, 7–6(7–5), 4–6; the 2017 French Open final to Jelena Ostapenko, 6–4, 4–6, 3–6; and the 2018 Australian Open final to Caroline Wozniacki, 6–7(2–7), 6–3, 4–6. As you can see by the scorelines, each final was hard-fought and extremely entertaining, and her potential was on full display. But she couldn’t come up with her best tennis when she needed it the most.

Last year at the French Open, she was down a set and a break to Sloane Stephens in the final, and it looked like the heartbreak was going to continue. Then, she finally found that extra gear, and won 3–6, 6–4, 6–1.

Now, after this Wimbledon victory, I really feel like Simona could win at least five majors. I know winning three more is a lot, and she’s not the model of consistency — except she kind-of is? I’m not saying she’s a Serena or a Federer, but she’s made the final of four out of the last 10 majors, and won two of the last five. Her finals have come on all three surfaces, she’s finished in the top four of the WTA rankings the last five years, including finishing the year No. 1 the past two years, and she’s only 27 years old! She has many prime years ahead of her!

But the biggest reason why I’m bullish about her future is because of the improvements she’s made mentally. If you read the interview excerpt below, I’ve included the parts of the press conference where she talks about how she approached the match, and explained her confidence and focus. I think it will turn you into a believer, too.


This week in tennis

Barbora Strycova and Hsieh Su-wei won Wimbledon and then went to the ball, and Ben Rothenberg was there to document it all. Read it, because it includes this excerpt:

Hsieh coped with the waiting Sunday by nervously eating: bananas, chocolate cookies, two potatoes, a plate of vegetables.

”She was eating all the time,” Strycova said of Hsieh.

Hsieh said she was “glad Wimbledon changed the rules” and brought a final-set tiebreak, at 12-12, to this year’s tournament.

“Otherwise I will keep eating and I will get fat,” she said.

Also read Rothenberg’s dive into tennis’s harsher fines, which are suspect at best.

Latisha Chan partnered with Ivan Dodig to win the mixed title.

I can never get enough of photos from the Wimbledon Champions Dinner.

Where does Serena go from here?

One thing is for sure: Serena will fight for equality to her grave.

I will always read and recommend articles on Rufus the Hawk.

Katie Baker on Simona’s dismantling of Serena.

Here’s a look at the post-Wimbledon rankings. Ash Barty remains in the top spot.

Simona’s interview with the WTA Insider podcast is one of my favorites. Goodness is she reflective.

Jon Wertheim’s 50 parting thoughts are always a must-read.

Great piece on Abbey Ford, who won Wimbledon doubles in the juniors alongside Savannah Broadus.

Of course, as you all know, the tennis never stops! This week there are two tournaments, both on clay, for some reason. In Lausanne, Switzerland, Julia Goerges is the top seed. Anastasija Sevastova is the top seed in Bucharest.

Also, don’t forget: World Team Tennis begins this week! I’ll have more on that in next week’s newsletter.


Tweet of the week


Five at The IX: Simona’s mental toughness

At her Wimbledon press conference, Simona opened up about the mental clarity and calm she had headed into this match. Here are some excerpts:

Q. I wanted to see what it felt like for you to be on the court mentally playing so well. Did you have to think a lot or were you able to shut your mind off and let your body take over?

SIMONA HALEP: Well, I thought about the match, but I didn't think at all against who I play. I always been intimidated a little bit when I faced Serena. She's an inspiration for everyone and the model for everyone.

Today I decided before the match that I'm going to focus on myself and on the final of Grand Slam, not on her. That's why I was able to play my best, to be relaxed, and to be able to be positive and confident against her.

Q. What are you thinking when you're up 4-Love after 11 minutes against Serena in a Grand Slam final?

SIMONA HALEP: Nothing.

Q. Are you trying not to think about the score at that point?

SIMONA HALEP: Set and 5-2 when I was serving, after few points during the match, I looked at the scoreboard. I said, Okay, it's 5-2, it's real. Then I just played every ball. I didn't think at the score at all.

Q. After the match you said you were very nervous and it even affected your stomach. How did you get over that feeling of nervousness and change things?

SIMONA HALEP: Well, the nerves were positive this time. So nothing was negative. I felt in the stomach. I tried to control the emotions. I tried to focus on the game, what I have to play. In the warmup I was great also. So gave me little bit confidence more that I feel the ball and all is good.

I always play well when I have emotions. I don't try to ignore them or I don't fight against them. I try to take them as a positive and just trying to control them to the right -- to put them in the right way, which I did today. That's why I was able to do the best match.

Q. You said you had positive emotion and you tried to control the emotion. What was this controlling? What was the positive emotion? What were you saying to yourself?

SIMONA HALEP: Yeah, I always say that I have my chance. When I believe that, when I start to believe that, when I hear my voice saying that I have a chance, then I go for it without thinking the negative.

I do that also in normal life. When I really believe something, I repeat: I'm able to do. Today I did the same thing the whole match. I didn't think about the score. I just said, Here is my chance and I have to take it.

Q. In previous interviews you mentioned you didn't want to put pressure on yourself. You have been a finalist and you have won a slam. How do those two experiences prepare you for today?

SIMONA HALEP: The finals I lost in the past helped me for sure to be different when I face this moment. It's never easy to face a Grand Slam final. You can get intimidated by the moment. You can get nervous, too nervous.

I have learned that it's a normal match, not thinking that much about the trophy, just going there and try to be the best as you can. So I did that. I said that every time I would play a final of Grand Slam, I will do exactly the same thing. So today I did it.


Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women's Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports ThinkProgress
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren PGA.com
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster