Simona and Elina played each other in the Roland Garros quarterfinal. It was a tremendous match with a huge emotional swing for each player and the fans of each player. I thought I’d write this because I like both players and the match was so interesting that I want to share what I went through during the match.
Going into the match, I thought Simona would win. She had played so well in the opening four rounds of the tournament. The ankle didn’t seem to be a problem, as Simona was moving well. She had control of the match against Elina in Rome, where they met in the final, until the ankle injury she sustained in the match started compromising her movement. Because Simona seemed to have control of that match and because she was playing well in Paris, I believed she was going to win this match. One other reason was I thought Elina was having difficulty with an injury. She mentioned in Rome she had one. She had to take a medical timeout in her previous match against Martic and it didn’t seem she was 100% in the match before she turned it around. I didn’t think Elina would be able to play her best after narrowly getting through the match against Martic, where she came back from 2-5 down in the third set by winning the final five games.
With the two of them being the favorites for the tournament, I really wanted to watch the match. The problem was I’d have to take a day off to do it. My commitments are to Nole first. I wanted to be able to watch him play Rafa in the semifinals if they met. I was unsure about if I should take off with him playing Thiem because I thought that could be a good match, with Thiem being a favorite for the title. Nole beat him badly in Rome and Thiem said he doesn’t match up well against Nole, so I was unsure. Then I got lucky. Nole’s match was rained out against Thiem and then it became a no brainer to take the day off if Simona and Elina were to play the same day as well. Also, I didn’t think Nole was going to win the tournament, so I decided to take the day off to watch the matches.
Okay, now to the match.
Elina started out on fire. She was crushing the ball. Hitting winners all over. Dictating. Maybe the comeback in the previous round actually freed her up to play better tennis since she was so close to being out. Simona had no answers. Elina won the first five games of the match. I was taken aback, as I didn’t expect Elina to play so well. Simona climbed her way back into the set by winning the next three games. Elina would serve for the set for a second time. Simona got it to 30-30 and 40-40, but Elina came through to capture the set 6-3.
The second set started a lot like the first. Elina broke in a deuce game to start the set. Then broke again at love a few games later for a 4-1 lead. All hope seemed lost for Simona. I was pretty down. I went in thinking Simona would win and have a chance to make the final, possibly even win it. To see her down and out was so difficult, even though I very much like Elina as well. The thing with Simona is she has a lot of expectations. When she plays well she’s practically invincible and wipes the court with other players, the way Elina started the match doing to her. She’s achieved a lot by winning many big titles, but never a major. Something always seems to happen at majors. This seemed to be a big chance with no major titlist left in the draw and also the form she showed coming in by winning Madrid and making the final of Rome. I didn’t have high expectations heading into the tournament because of the ankle, but once I saw she was okay, then I began to hope again (although I will always be worried the ankle will flare up until Roland Garros ends).
Now down 1-5. All but over.
Love hold for 2-5. Whatever, it’s still two breaks.
Elina is two points away at 5-2 30-30, but Simona wins the next two points with backhand winners to break.
Now Simona serves and quickly finds herself 0-30 after Elina started the game with a return winner then Simona clipped the tape and the ball went wide. Elina is two points away again. Then Simona forced an error. Then Elina had an unforced error. Another forced error. 40-30. Then Elina got it to deuce and then another deuce. But Elina’s forehand let her down after missing on a moonball like shot from Simona and then a return.
Elina would serve for it again at 5-4 and quickly find herself 0-40 and broken a few points later. All tied up at 5-5!
Both players would then trade long deuce holds. Simona’s was much easier, as Elina was down 0-40 and had to save four set points in total before holding and forcing a tiebreak.
Elina found herself ahead at the change of ends, 4-2, but a backhand error gave the mini break back. They traded holds with Elina arriving at match point at 6-5. Simona sniffed it out though opening the court with a forehand that must’ve just caught the line. Elina got it back but was in no position for the next ball, with Simona only needing to hit a simple backhand to the open court.
A wide forehand from Elina would give Simona her fifth set point.
Elina hit a good serve to Simona’s backhand and punished the return down the line. Simona, at full extension, hits the forehand cross court where it finds the net and falls over onto Elina’s side. There was no getting it. Clean net cord winner. The set was Simona’s.
At this point, I’m pretty ecstatic. To come back from the brink of defeat and win that set is an amazing feeling. From being down and out to now with a lot of momentum to win the match. The swing of emotion is incredible. Something every tennis fan has probably experienced.
Elina couldn’t recover from all the chances from the second set, where she had a match point and was also two points away from winning on eight different occasions. Simona would bagel Elina in the third set, winning 26 of 38 points. Elina had only one game point in the set.
I was very happy Simona was able to win and continue her quest for the title. I also understood what Elina’s fans were going through though. I know that feeling all too well. I didn’t tweet anything celebratory, just hugs to them to wish them well. I’ve a lot of Elina fan friends as well that follow me so I wasn’t going to try to make them feel any worse seeing the other side of it.
Fave matchups are funny. You like both players. You root for them just about every match. Then they play another fave and the ranking order you have them in wins. Simona is my second favorite WTA player. Elina is third. Also, my desire to see Simona win a major was a big factor in my support. I didn’t care as much in Rome when they played because it wasn’t as big of a tournament and both had previously won Premier 5 titles, so it wasn’t more important for either player. (Let the record show I was slightly rooting for Simona though). They share a similarity in that neither have won a major, but I want to see Simona win one more. We go back to my rankings for that. Also, Simona I’ve been a fan of just a little bit longer.
I’m not sure how many fave matchups we’re up to now, but there’s been a fair number. I remember my first one being Sabine and Simona for a place in the US Open quarterfinal. Now I kinda wish, my top two wouldn’t have been the first one. My emotions were all over the place. I feel I had more empathy for Simona when she was down in that match than I felt happy with how Elina was crushing Simona at the beginning of today’s match. I guess I’ve learned how to cheer on the player I want to win in these matchups. I know at the end of the day I still like both players and that wouldn’t change at the end of the match. I’m not rooting against anybody, just for a particular player for a few hours.
Of all the fave matchups, there seems to be a common theme. They produce some high quality tennis. They’re drama filled. They don’t ever play out perfectly. For example, it wasn’t perfect because the most of the match wasn’t competitive today. It’d have been nice if the match was closer for longer. But it did get competitive and have a lot of drama in the second set. The quality in the last few games was tremendous. It’s been like this for all the other fave matchups as well, but I’ll save you the time of the exact details.
It was an unusual match though with how things went early on being so down about Simona’s prospects of winning. I didn’t tweet much during the match. Usually I would be tweeting all my Simona goat GIF’s, but they didn’t apply. I couldn’t tweet my Elina ones either because I wasn’t rooting for her. It was an awkward position because I love my GIF’s of them and wanted to use them, but I couldn’t. Also, with fans of both players following me, I couldn’t tweet anything with too much emotion either way, so I just didn’t tweet mostly.
Now to look at each player’s perspective after this match.
From Elina’s standpoint this is tough. To be so close and play so well. She would’ve been a deserving winner. She took it to Simona the majority of the first two sets. She’ll look back and be disappointed she let this one get away. I have to say I’m very surprised by it as well. One of Elina’s strengths I’ve thought is her mind. She seems to make decisions well. She has big goals and is doing everything she can to achieve them. I wouldn’t have thought she could blow such a lead. Simona did fight and deserves that credit, but Elina shouldn’t have lost such a big lead as 5-1. To her credit, when it was back even, she got even closer to winning it in the tiebreak. Maybe that is part of the mental toughness I thought she had to not let a lead like that slip. It showed up a bit too late. You can’t blame Elina though. This would’ve been her first major semifinal. She seems to be in good spirits though as she said in press that tomorrow is another day. Great perspective. Doesn’t seem like this loss will hurt her too much. She’ll take the positives and learn from the experience.
I’m kind of glad Elina lost in a way because I don’t want her to get too popular just yet. I’d still like her to be somewhat easily accessible. I’ve been able to walk right up to her and be the only one who asks for an autograph or selfie a few different times. I’m sure it won’t be as easy anymore, given she’s world #5 on Monday, but winning a major would’ve brought a lot more attention. I’m happy with her progress and where she’s at. She’s still a bit young. I think she’s shown her abilities in this match against Simona. More people will start to believe in her and become fans having seen her level. I think this match should make people realize how good she is the way she played the first set and beginning of the second set. She can play aggressive. She’s not just a defender. You need both to be a top player and she has that. This match was the perfect balance of showing potential, but not reaching it. How about the press conference too? She accepted the loss and showed great perspective. She didn’t make any excuses. You leave this match realizing she’s got talent and will achieve great things in the future. With the way she handled her press conference, you should realize she has a champions mentality. She should be considered a top favorite at tournaments she plays.
From Simona’s standpoint, the quest continues. Nearly derailed, but we’ve still got a chance now. She’ll face Karolina Pliskova in the semifinal. It’s their first clay meeting. Simona has had success in their hard court matches and leads the head to head 4-1. Pliskova will be #1 if she wins that match. That may play a factor into the nerves for her, although we didn’t see her show them at the US Open, so maybe her calm demeanor won’t be overcome by that. It will be challenging for her though with Simona being the toughest opponent she’s played.
Can’t remember Simona Halep ever recovering from a significant deficit in any vaguely imp match. Hard to understate the significance of that
— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) June 7, 2017
I wanted to include this tweet because it’s interesting and may point to where Simona might end up in the coming days. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Simona come back from such a deficit to win either. I may not be the perfect person to ask for this because I don’t watch as many matches of hers as other fans do, but it does seem to be a theme with her that she is unable to turn matches around on the big stage. Perhaps she will get a lot of confidence from this and it will serve her well for the rest of Roland Garros and possibly beyond. This could be a big turning point in her career to win this match the way she did. There’s a lot on the line in the coming days and this could be just the thing she needs to give her the abilities to go all the way.