What a difference a year makes
Thursday’s second women’s semi-final will pit Simona Halep, the Most Improved Player of 2013, against the main candidate for Comeback Player of the Year 2014 in Andrea Petkovic.
A lot can change in 12 months. Marginally over a year ago Simona Halep arrived at Roland Garros ranked No.57. Fast forward to the 2014 French Open and she has rocketed to No.5 in the world, winning seven titles in the last 13 months on hard, clay and grass; and having set new career bests at Flushing Meadow and Melbourne Park, she is embarking on her maiden Grand Slam semi-final in the knowledge that she has yet to lose a set here and is long since the highest seed left in the draw.
But if that 12-month rise is startling, consider the change of fortune for Halep’s semi-final opponent Andrea Petkovic. This time last year she lost in the second round of qualifying to the world No.156 Zhou Yi-Miao – a wretched low for a player who was ranked No.9 at the end of 2011, having become the only WTA player to make the last eight at the three out of the four Slams (falling short only at Wimbledon). It made her the first German to finish in the top ten since one Steffi Graf in 1998. Then successive knee, ankle and back injuries rendered the subsequent months utterly miserable. She considered quitting tennis altogether.
But she didn’t. Instead she kept going, and began climbing back up the rankings until she won her third career title at Charleston this year, to arrive at Roland Garros seeded No.28. It does not require genius understanding of the rankings system to understand she will rise further, no matter what happens in her semi against Halep. Intriguingly, these semi-final opponents came through their last eight matches with identical scorelines, each losing just four games. Petkovic might well be interested in the words of the 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, seen off by the Romanian in their quarter-final.
“She doesn’t overpower you,” observed Kuznetsova. “She takes off the speed very well. She plays very smart tennis.”
Of course if it’s smart you’re after, then not too many come smarter than the Bosnian-born German, with her fluency in four languages and love of Goethe and Nietzsche. But Halep has tennis smarts, and is learning all the time.
“When I reached the quarters in Australia this year, I didn't know how to manage my emotions before the match,” said the Romanian after her quarter-final win. “I was very nervous on court and I couldn't play my game. This time I was very relaxed and it was a perfect day. So now I feel good. I feel my game. I feel prepared for the next match.”