5 Biggest Reasons Simona Halep Is the Most Underhyped Tennis Player

Merlisa Lawrence CorbettFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2014

5 Biggest Reasons Simona Halep Is the Most Underhyped Tennis Player

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    Simona Halep, seen here at the Rome Open, will be ranked No. 4 by Monday.
    Simona Halep, seen here at the Rome Open, will be ranked No. 4 by Monday.Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

    Check out the newly released WTA rankings today? Simona Halep is ranked No. 4, a career high. Yet aside from diehard tennis fans, few people recognize her name.

    Halep reached the finals in Madrid a few weeks ago and took the first set off Maria Sharapova. Last year Halep won six WTA titles. Only Serena Williams won more. She also rose from No. 47 to No. 11. 

    She did this with little hype. If you visit the WTA website often, you've seen more photos and stories about No. 19 Eugenie Bouchard. Bouchard has been promoted by her agent as the next Sharapova because she's tall, blonde, considered attractive and has a decent game. 

    So why no hype for Halep? She's attractive too. She seems pleasant and smiles often. She has a phenomenal all-around game.

    Downplaying Halep probably has more to do with marketability than playing ability. Here are the five biggest reasons Halep is the most underhyped player in tennis.   

     

5. She's Not a Blonde

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    Eugunie Bouchard hits a shot against Simona Halep at Indian Wells.
    Eugunie Bouchard hits a shot against Simona Halep at Indian Wells.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    When it comes to tennis hype and endorsements, do blondes get more funds?

    It started with Chris Evert, the American media darling. At least Evert's on-court wins matched her off-court endorsements.

    But Evert arrived before 24/7 media hype. That's when Anna Kournikova took blond ambition to a new level. Later, Sharapova capitalized on the Kournikova phenomenon: The media and Madison Avenue now had a blonde who actually won stuff. 

    Last year Agnieszka Radwanska tried wearing her hair blond for a while. Even Serena Williams, who has earned more prize money than any woman in the history of sports, is sporting blond hair these days. 

    Surely Williams, the queen of tennis, one of the greatest of all time, doesn't need blond hair to score endorsements, right?

    Perhaps it's mere coincidence that since switching from red to blond highlights late last year, Williams has scored an endorsement deal with Berlei sports bra company and appeared in a Beats headphones ad.  

    The most hyped young player in tennis is the blond Bouchard, affectionately called "Genie." If Halep wants to capture some of that "genie magic" she might consider looking in a bottle...of hair dye. 

     

4. She's Not an Amazon

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    Maria Sharapova and former world No. 1 Dinara Safina chat as Simona Halep looks away during the trophy ceremony in Madrid.
    Maria Sharapova and former world No. 1 Dinara Safina chat as Simona Halep looks away during the trophy ceremony in Madrid.Andres Kudacki/Associated Press/Associated Press

    Halep is listed at 5'6". That's taller than the average woman. But on the WTA tour, the top players are anything but average. 

    Sharapova is listed at 6'2". However, based on the way she towers over people who are 6'0", including Dinara Safina, Sharapova is probably closer to 6'3". Ana Ivanovic, Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka are all 6 feet or taller.

    It's not like shorter women get completely ignored. But they usually have to win a Grand Slam or at least make it to the finals. Dominika Cibulkova, 5'3", leaped into the spotlight after making the finals at the Australian Open. But then again, Cibulkova is also a blonde.  

3. She Speaks with a Heavy Foreign Accent

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    Simona Halep speaks with the press after winning the New Haven tournament in 2013.
    Simona Halep speaks with the press after winning the New Haven tournament in 2013.Elsa/Getty Images

    Halep, Romanian, speaks English well. She's understandable, engaging and likable. With girl-next-door looks and a top-five ranking, you'd think that would be enough.

    But for casual fans and the American-focused media, Halep sounds, well....un-American. 

    Having an American accent has helped Sharapova, a Russian who has spent most of her life in the U.S. Bouchard is Canadian. Halep speaks thoughtfully and clearly measures her words when speaking English. 

    You have to wonder: If she were an Americanized star on a meteoric rise, would we know more about her? 

2. No Big Wins in Grand Slams

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    Dominika Cibulkova shakes hands with Simona Halep at the 2014 Australian Open
    Dominika Cibulkova shakes hands with Simona Halep at the 2014 Australian OpenAndrew Brownbill/Associated Press/Associated Press

    One knock against Halep is her performance in Grand Slams. Halep built her rankings by winning in smaller tournaments. She made her first final in a premier event this year in Madrid.

    Up until this year, she had never moved behind the fourth round of a Grand Slam. In 2012 she failed to advance beyond the second round and lost in the first round in all but the U.S. Open.

    She reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open. If she performs better in the biggest events, that will go a long way toward winning some hype. 

1. She's Still Considered a Minor Leaguer

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    Simona Halep raises the winning trophy from the Sofia Cup in 2013.
    Simona Halep raises the winning trophy from the Sofia Cup in 2013.Valentina Petrova/Associated Press

    Most WTA phenoms come through the ranks after conquering the juniors. By age 19 they've already made waves in a major tournament. By age 21 people are talking Grand Slam contender. 

    Halep arrived in the top five the hard way. At age 17 she underwent breast reduction surgery to reduce her 34DDs to 34Cs. After taking time to recover, she made a steady climb up the rankings. 

    She spent last year racking up points and titles at minor tournaments. Halep, 23, won 53 matches, the third-best on the tour. However, most of those matches, including the six titles, were won at events skipped by the top players.

    She finished her by winning the Tournament of Champions, the NIT of women's year-end tournaments. 

    When Halep starts winning more big matches and bigger events, as she has this year, she'll garner the hype she deserves.