It has been an eventful year for world number one Simona Halep, having created history when she debuted on the top of the rankings on 9th October 2017. She became the first Romanian in history to lead the WTA rankings, and it certainly was a scenic path to the top. Previously, Halep was one win away from the number one ranking on four different occasions before finally clinching it on her fifth attempt. Heading into the new year, Halep also definitely will feel pleased about how her game and mentality improved over 2017.
Halep ended the year with a 47-17 win-loss record (.734) having earned six top-10 wins throughout the year as well. Although the Romanian won just one title despite being the top-ranked player, she also has four other runner-up trophies in her accolades. At one point in time, Halep also reached 10 consecutive quarterfinals from Miami to Cincinnati, but her success were all undermined by her two first-round losses at Grand Slams.
All her losses came against players of a lower ranking, but that could also be credited to the fact that she has been ranked inside the top-five during all her defeats and six came against fellow top-10 players. However, some could also argue that Halep occasionally struggles against players whom she should have beaten. The world number one also suffered four opening-round defeats this year (including the WTA Finals, where Halep exited in the Round Robin).
Halep had a slow start to the year and disappointingly fell in the second round of the Shenzhen Open to the eventual champion Katerina Siniakova, and looked nowhere near her best throughout the opening matches despite claiming a win over Jelena Jankovic in her first match of the year. It was found out that it was a left knee injury which had hindered Halep in January and cost her an opening-round exit at the Australian Open as she was totally outclassed by Shelby Rogers in straight sets.
After fully recovering from her left knee injury, the Romanian seemed to be playing her best tennis at the Miami Open where she earned a couple of good wins. However, the biggest problem she faced in her career kicked in once again: mentality issues. In her quarterfinal encounter against eventual champion Johanna Konta in Miami, she was two points away from the win on multiple occasions but yet collapsed mentally after losing the second set. She was involved in a heated on-court coaching timeout with coach Darren Cahill, which led to a brief split in their partnership after the tournament. Nonetheless, the temporary split was effective as Halep soon hired a mental coach and managed to handle the pressure better than before.
Halep has been ultra close to the number one ranking this year — so close that she was one win away from taking the top spot for an incredible four times before finally taking it on her fifth attempt. Following a stellar clay court season, the Romanian was a huge favorite entering her the French Open. Reaching the final despite nursing an ankle injury, Halep was just nine points away from claiming her maiden Grand Slam title and the top spot after leading 6-3, 3-0 AD-40 against surprise finalist Jelena Ostapenko. However, from there on, she lost her momentum and instead choked a 3-1 lead in the final set as well, missing the golden opportunity to achieve what most could not.
Another chance to take the number one ranking was at the Eastbourne International, where she led 7-5, 3-0 against Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals before she fell in three tough sets. Halep was deemed to be plagued by fatigue after playing a three-set marathon earlier in the day due to rain delays previously. The Romanian could have been the world number one heading into Wimbledon had she defeated the Dane after Kerber fell short to home favorite Johanna Konta later that same day.
Halep needed to reach the semifinals at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club to grab the number one ranking, and she did an excellent job to enter the second week after grabbing a couple of impressive wins over tricky players. Going up against home favorite Johanna Konta, the Romanian was once again just two points away from the win but she crumbled to the inspired Brit eventually, falling 7-6, 6-7, 4-6 in the most-viewed match of the tournament.
She had another golden opportunity to take the top spot, which came at the Western and Southern Open. Halep had to win the title for that to occur, but once again she was so close, yet so far. The Romanian did a great job in reaching the final but was unexpectedly thrashed 1-6, 0-6 by Garbine Muguruza there, looking totally out-of-sorts. This came after another 1-6, 1-6 drubbing by Elina Svitolina at the Rogers Cup in another match where was clicking for her.
At one point in time, Halep went on a three-match losing streak from Cincinnati to Wuhan. After missing out on the Western and Southern Open title and the number one ranking, she entered the US Open as the favourite to finally claim the top-spot but the tennis gods seemed to be working against the Romanian after she was drawn to face five-time Grand Slam champion and former world number one Maria Sharapova in a blockbuster opening-round match. Despite putting up an extremely tough fight, Halep eventually fell in three sets to the Russian and put her chances to grab the top spot in jeopardy (and Muguruza ultimately claimed the number one ranking).
After a shocking 2-6, 1-6 defeat to Russian talent Daria Kasatkina in the opening round of the Wuhan Open, Halep herself also admitted that the number one ranking is not within her reach especially after falling in the first round at the US Open. However, no one would have expected her to reach the final at the China Open and come out of nowhere to claim the number one ranking, and after multiple tries and so many heartbreaks, Halep finally became the top player in the rankings.
As the world number one, Halep disappointingly failed to live up to her expectations as she crashed out in the Round Robin at the WTA Finals held in Singapore. After defeating Caroline Garcia, she was brushed off the court by eventual champion Caroline Wozniacki and nemesis Elina Svitolina.
After a slow start to the year, Halep finally seemed to have found her groove at the Miami Open as she clinched an excellent victory over the talented and powerful youngster Naomi Osaka in the opening round. She then earned her first back-to-back win of the year against qualifier Anett Kontaveit (who would go on to break the top-30 later on in the year) before saving match points to oust veteran Samantha Stosur in the fourth round.
Halep also played a pivotal role in Romania’s impressive home win against Great Britain in their World Group II play-offs tie, and her two wins allowed her country to narrowly stay inside the World Group II. She beat Heather Watson without facing many problems before defeating Johanna Konta to seal the win for Romania.
After a semifinal showing at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, Halep finally reached her first final of the year at the Mutua Madrid Open. Clay has been the Romanian’s strongest surface and she was tipped to perform well throughout the clay-court season. Facing a huge risk of falling out of the top-10 if she did not defend her title in Madrid, she handled the pressure well and rebounded from being two points away from defeat against Roberta Vinci in the second round. She looked dominant all week and claimed straightforward wins over Coco Vandeweghe and Anastasija Sevastova before triumphing over the in-form Kristina Mladenovic in a high-quality final for her first and only title of the year.
Continuing her good run, Halep carried over the momentum into the Internazionali BNL D’Italia where she was the sixth seed. She exacted revenge for her Stuttgart loss with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Laura Siegemund before getting past the in-form Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Anett Kontaveit, who beat world number one Kerber earlier in the week. With another defeat of Kiki Bertens, Halep progressed to her second final in as many weeks and was looking on course for a second title until a nasty fall during the final caused her to injure her ankle, which ultimately proved costly as she came up second best against a solid Elina Svitolina.
Halep entered Roland Garros as the third seed, but she was also the overwhelming favorite to clinch the trophy. The Romanian strolled to the quarterfinals losing only 19 games in the process before producing an improbable comeback from 3-6, 1-5 down to defeat fifth seed Elina Svitolina having saved a match point along the way. Halep then ended Karolina Pliskova’s chances of being the world number one after ousting her in three sets, reaching her second French Open final as a result. However, she put in a disappointing performance against an in-form Jelena Ostapenko, failing to take the top spot ultimately.
The Romanian went into Wimbledon with not many expectations considering grass was her least-preferred surface and was also given a relatively tricky draw. However, she still managed to storm to the quarterfinals with impressive wins over Peng Shuai and former world number one Victoria Azarenka without losing a set.
She had a decent lead-up to the US Open, though she was totally outclassed during both her losses. Nonetheless, she was still able to reach the semifinal at the Rogers Cup and the final of the Western and Southern Open. On both occasions, Halep did not lose a set before her loss, earning notable victories over Caroline Garcia (who went on to qualify for Singapore) and Johanna Konta (who had never lost to the Romanian in WTA events) in the process.
Some dull results followed but Halep’s best tournament on hard courts this year was arguably the China Open, where she finally clinched the number one ranking after multiple tries. Her campaign started poorly, ironically. She had to endure through a tough three-setter to defeat Alison Riske and also benefitted from a retirement from Magdalena Rybarikova to set up a rematch with Sharapova. Unexpectedly, Halep thrashed the Russian 6-2, 6-2 in just over an hour for her first ever win over the five-time Major champion. From there, it all seemed like a “revenge week” for the Romanian, who went on to beat Daria Kasatkina in the quarterfinals with the exact same scoreline which she had lost in the previous week (d. Kasatkina 6-2, 6-1 in Beijing; l. Kasatkina 2-6, 1-6 in Wuhan).
Her mission throughout the year was finally completed with an excellent victory over Jelena Ostapenko, exacting revenge for her Roland Garros loss. The number one ranking, having been so close yet so far, finally belongs to Halep. Being just five points away from the top spot before the US Open, it seemed to be all over after her opening-round exit at Flushing Meadows but she shocked everyone when they let their guard down, coming out of nowhere to reach the final in Beijing and thus being the first Romanian to top the WTA rankings.
Season Grade: A-
Although Halep’s season has its various low points, the Romanian was able to reach five finals, which were all at least Premier 5 level tournaments. Halep also made her debut at the number one spot towards the end of the year and also made a significant improvement in her mentality. Therefore, it has been a relatively successful year for the world number one.