Simona Halep is the current world No. 1 in women’s tennis and has spent 64 weeks at the summit of the rankings.
The Romanian is a national hero back home, is one of the WTA’s biggest stars, and has earned north of $28million in prize money alone. Not to mention her endorsement deals with Mercedes-Benz Romania and Nike among others.
Her consistency on court is admired by her peers, her fighting spirit keeps growing by the minute (have you watched her battling wins over Kanepi and Kenin this week?) and her fans chant her name in three ever-so-familiar syllables heard in stadiums across the globe. Yet the thing that will strike you the most about Halep is how “normal” she is.
The other day, I got on the Australian Open shuttle bus that transports players and media to the tournament and the first person I bumped into was Halep. She could have easily taken an Aus Open courtesy car but she didn’t. Apparently she’s been taking the shuttle bus all week.
“You saw me on the bus, huh? I love it,” she told me with a laugh when I asked her about it.
— Simona Halep (@Simona_Halep) January 12, 2019
Considering I saw Bernard Tomic storm off in his loud ‘Batmobile’ from the very same hotel where Halep takes the bus just the previous day, I couldn’t help but find it amusing how unassuming the world No. 1 really is. She stays at the official tournament hotels with everybody else while other stars opt for fancier or more private accommodation. She reminds me of when Andy Murray declined the Dubai tournament’s offer to put him up at the seven-star Burj Al Arab hotel in favour of the on-site hotel so he could be with his team, and avoid unnecessary traffic to and from the tennis.
Halep says keeping things simple is part of her nature.
“I will never change the things. It’s much better to be like this. I do these things naturally,” she said.
“It’s nothing forced. I feel good this way and I will keep it.”
I ask her if she ever allows herself to go a bit crazy, she says: “I buy many things, I do some little crazy things but nothing extravagant because it’s not my type of personality.”
She really is the People’s Champion!
Andre Agassi is here at the Australian Open as Grigor Dimitrov’s coach and had a press event on Thursday at the Lavazza café onsite. While he admitted he hasn’t been following the next generation of players closely, he did light up when he was asked about Stefanos Tsitsipas specifically.
“I enjoy watching him. I think it’s been wonderful to see how quickly he’s adjusted to faster surfaces,” said Agassi of the 20-year-old Greek.
“When you look at him at first glance, it’s easy to see a big guy with long swings, who might struggle as the pace of the game picks up on faster courts, but he’s a competitor and he’s making little adjustments that’s proving that he can hang in there on multiple surfaces, which will give him a lot of looks. He’s going to have to be dealt with, he’s not going to give it to you.
“He’s a fighter and I like watching his spirit. I wish I had his hair.”
Thursday night witnessed the latest ever start of a match in the history of the Australian Open as Johanna Konta and Garbine Muguruza started their match 30 minutes after midnight. The previous match on Margaret Court Arena went on for too long as Alexander Zverev went up two sets to love, then dropped two sets before defeating Jeremy Chardy 6-1 in the fifth.
During the fifth set of that men’s match, organisers said they would move Konta-Muguruza to Court 3. A plan that was later ruined by the fact that there was too much seagulls poop on the court and all the cleaners had already gone home. Only in tennis!
They ended up playing on their originally scheduled court. Before the match started, umpire Tom Sweeney was going through the routine reminders that take place at the beginning of any clash, telling Konta and Muguruza that there would be a 10-point final-set tiebreak, one toilet break and then he paused before admitting: “I can’t even remember the last one, it’s too late.”
Us in the press room certainly felt his pain!
Bless Noura, Jo’s wife for surviving today. She was falling asleep in his presser just now (it’s close to 2:00am). Jo asked me on his way out: “I think we’re the only sport that plays at this time of the night”…. Is he right? Can’t think of another, really…
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) January 17, 2019
That was the same night that saw Lleyton Hewitt respond to Bernard Tomic’s claims that he gives preferential treatment to certain Australian players, among a list of other accusations. Hewitt in turn said on Thursday night after his doubles match – with his partner JP Smith sitting silently next to him throughout the entire press conference – that Tomic has been “threatening and blackmailing” him for over a year, he described him as a “clown” and vowed that he will never select him for Davis Cup duty. Just a regular night for Australian tennis!
The cameras in the tunnel that takes players onto Rod Laver Arena showed Naomi Osaka, who was warming up for her second round against Tamara Zidansek, congratulating her fellow Japanese Kei Nishikori, who had just walked off court following an emotional five-set victory over Ivo Karlovic that lasted nearly four hours.
Osaka was asked later what she told Nishikori at that moment.
“You had a very, very long match. I had to warm up four times, so thank you for that,” she revealed with a laugh.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 17, 2019
PRESS CONFERENCE MOMENTS
You never know what you can get in a press conference and in Tsitsipas’ case, it was a Greek restaurant recommendation from a journalist, who actually handed the restaurant’s card to the player, assuring him he wasn’t getting any commission for this. Tsitsipas jokingly questioned the reporter’s motives, wondering why he was walking around with the restaurant’s card.
“I’ve been going there for 25 years,” said the reporter.
“Even more reason to think there’s more to this,” laughed Tsitsipas.
I still think he’s not convinced!
Meanwhile, Sharapova had the following exchange in her press conference on Wednesday.
Q: You said on court it’s past your bedtime. What is your bedtime?
Sharapova: 10:30. Like in bed at 10:00, sleep by 10:30. My boyfriend challenges it quite a lot, but 10:30 is my time.
SIZE DOESN’T ALWAYS MATTER
It’s been a good couple of days for some of the shorter players on tour as 173cm Thomas Fabbiano beat 211cm Reilly Opelka before 178cm Nishikori overcame 211cm Karlovic, who hit 59 aces but still lost.
In his on-court interview, Nishikori was told Karlovic hit 60 aces against him.
“That’s almost my one year of aces,” admitted Nishikori.
American Next Gen player Frances Tiafoe took out No. 5 seed and last year’s Wimbledon runner-up Kevin Anderson in four sets on Wednesday.
STAT OF THE ROUND
3 – games dropped by Sharapova en route to the third round.