Have We Already Seen the Best of Simona Halep's Career?

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2015

Simona Halep appears frustrated during a match at Aegon Classic in Birmingham, England.
Simona Halep appears frustrated during a match at Aegon Classic in Birmingham, England.Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Simona Halep reportedly has no expectations when it comes to Wimbledon. Based on her results at Grand Slams this season, it's difficult to know what to expect from Halep.

A few months ago, Halep looked like the new rival to Serena Williams. Today, Halep's future seems less certain. Is she skidding through a rough patch, or has she passed her peak? Have we already seen the best of Halep? 

Those are odd questions about a player ranked No. 3 and three months shy of her 24th birthday. Just a few months ago, Halep spoke confidentially about taking on Williams and grabbing the No. 1 ranking.

When Williams withdrew from Indian Wells, just before their scheduled semifinal match, Halep told Tennis.com's Matt Cronin that she wanted to test herself against Williams. "When I came here, after my first match I said that I want to play in semifinals with Serena again, because I wanted to see where I am and how I stay on court."

Halep got her chance in Miami. She lost, but pushed Williams to three sets in one of the best played matches on the WTA Tour this season.

It was their first meeting since Williams won the 2014 WTA Championships. Halep defeated Williams 6-0, 6-2 during round-robin competition. Williams got her revenge in the finals, defeating Halep 6-3, 6-0.  

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Halep started 2015 with a win at the Shenzhen Open. She reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open without dropping a set. Then, she hit a wall. Ekaterina Makarova defeated Halep 6-4, 6-0 in just 69 minutes. Worse than the whoopin, Halep admitted she lost belief in the second set. 

What happened?

Halep seemed bewildered after the loss. Perhaps over-thinking and trying too hard, she thought, as she spoke to reporters in the post-match press conference

"I cannot say it was pressure. Just I was a little bit stressed. I don't know why. I had experience from last year of playing quarter-finals, so it doesn't mean that I felt pressure."

The loss was so disappointing that Halep vowed to fight harder, to the end in future matches. She did that at Indian Wells, where she won her first premier event. After Miami, it looked as if Halep had found her game.

Simona Halep smiles with her trophy after winning the 2015 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.
Simona Halep smiles with her trophy after winning the 2015 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.Julian Finney/Getty Images

But she lost in the first round in Madrid. Then she fell in the second round at the French Open, where she had reached the finals the year before. 

Last week, Halep lost in the quarterfinals in Birmingham, where she was the No. 1 seed. 

Suddenly, her career looks more like that of another one-time French Open finalist: Sara Errani.

Like Halep, Errani is taller than the average woman, but shorter than most of the ladies in the Top 10. Errani is 5'5". Halep is 5'6".  Ironically, both reached the Top Five after a loss to Maria Sharapova in a French Open final.

Although Halep's serve is nowhere near the liability of Errani's, it's way too "smackable." That's what's been happening to Halep. She's getting smacked around.

Halep is talented, tenacious, speedy and super smart. She chases down would-be winners and sends them back at stunned opponents. There are times her play is so brilliant that you'd swear you are watching a future Grand Slam champion.

Then, there are those matches, like the beating at the Australian Open. At the time, you had to figure that was an aberration. 

She regrouped and even regained the No. 2 ranking she lost to Sharapova. But the second-guessing and doubts came back after the loss at Roland Garros. A dejected Halep told reporters how she struggled to find her game. 

Maybe I changed a bit, you know, the strategy of my practices. I just wanted to hit too strong maybe, and to change the game is not good. I have to play like what I feel on court and just to be like, to create the game. So I started to hit the ball too strong, and that is not my style. I don't feel it, and I don't handle it. So I have to go back, you know, in my game and just to train again how I did till now.

All the second-guessing hints that Halep may be at a crossroad. 

Which way is she headed? 

With her talent and all-around game, it's unlikely Halep will falter as fast as Dominika Cibulkova, another player slight in stature (5'3"). Cibulkova catapulted into the Top 10 after reaching the semis at the 2014 Australian Open. She's ranked No. 49 now.

Halep could become another Errani, consistent and always a threat to upset the two most dominant divas, Williams and Sharapova. Yet Errani somehow fails to pull together the game, the nerve and the serve all at the same time.  

Halep is 1-5 against Williams and 0-5 against Sharapova. Halep's fans, including some passionate traveling Romanians, believe she has yet to reach her full potential. But what if instead, Halep has maxed out on her talent? What if what we've seen is as good as it's going to get? 

One thing is for sure, Wimbledon will offer some answers. No expectations? Sorry, Simona. Once you started talking about being No. 1, fans expect a Grand Slam.