When Simona Halep was blown off the court in the second set of her 6-4 6-0 loss in the 2015 Australian Open quarterfinals by Ekaterina Makarova she admitted that she gave in to her nerves and gave up trying to win down the stretch. Halep vowed that would never happen again. No matter the pressure or nerves, win or lose, the world #3 promised to fight to the finish. If the women’s singles final at the 2015 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells is any indication, Halepeño is a woman of her word. With an opportunity to win the biggest title of her career, Simona came out wound as tightly as I’ve ever seen. She couldn’t get any momentum going against 2010 Indian Wells champion and former world #1 Jelena Jankovic. JJ looked like she was going to roll through Halep after snatching the first set 6-2. Simona was annoyed at herself and had a choice to make; keep fighting or mentally check out.
Simona’s game didn’t get considerably much better, but her grit and determination, three times fighting back from a break down in the second set, allowed her to turn the pressure back on Jankovic. Not only is JJ known to succumb to her own nerves, she is also emotionally volatile. The more Halep fought the more Jelena started to doubt herself, even when she was at one stage 2 points from the match and championship. JJ should have won this in straight sets. She caught Halep on a day when the Romanian star only had her C-game. But Jankovic let Simona battle her way back into the match, narrowly taking the second set 7-5. Jelena never recovered.
Although there were more momentum swings in the final set, mentally JJ couldn’t let go of losing the middle stanza. During an on-court visit from her coach in the third set, she was still verbally lamenting the second set loss. The score was close, but in the end Simona was the mentally stronger player, eventually prevailing 2-6 7-5 6-4. The match had its share of sloppy, nerve-filled play (18 breaks of serve plus tons of errors). Still, the defensive counter-punching styles of each player allowed for some terrific rallies. There was very little to separate these players, both winning 100 points each. What decided victory was Simona’s ability to stay mentally focused on enough big points. Halepeño takes home $900,400 for winning the biggest title of her career, her 11th overall. But more importantly, she takes home the knowledge that she can dig deep and win on days when she isn’t firing on all cylinders. That experience could pay dividends one day when she’s fighting for a Major championship.
Here’s how much respect Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza have as doubles players. This is the first time they’ve ever played together as a team…and at a “mini-Major” type event no less…but they still were given the #1 seed over duos that have played together long term and have Major wins, like their opponents in the finals, Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina. Of course, Mirza herself has 3 mixed doubles Major titles. And what is left to say about Martina Hingis? She has 9 doubles Majors and 2 mixed doubles Majors, including being the reigning Australian Open mixed doubles champion with Leander Paes. It doesn’t seem to matter with whom Hingis plays doubles. She is going to be a winner. Just a few months into 2015 she’s already won 3 doubles/mixed doubles titles with 3 different partners (Paes, Sabine Lisicki and now Mirza). Her 6-3 6-4 triumph with Mirza over Makarova and Vesnina marks the former world #1’s (in both singles and doubles) 43rd women’s doubles title. There is terrific symmetry there as she matches the 43 singles titles she also owns. I see no limit to what she can accomplish if she wants to keep the comeback going for several years to come. A lot of doubles players play longer due to less wear and tear on their bodies. As long as Hingis stays healthy, she should keep playing and winning.
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3 SIMONA HALEP (won 2-6 7-5 6-4 vs 18 Jelena Jankovic)
1 MARTINA HINGIS/SANIA MIRZA (won 6-3 6-4 vs 2 EKATERINA MAKAROVA/ELENA VESNINA)