'Best match of my life'
Courage and concentration help Halep hand world No. 1 Williams her worst loss in 16 years
By now, there should not be any doubts that she belongs to the world's elite.
World No. 4 Simona Halep sent shockwaves through the tennis world with her 6-0, 6-2 thrashing of top-ranked Serena Williams in their Red Group clash at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global yesterday.
The Romanian, who celebrated her 23rd birthday less than a month ago, made the headlines six years ago for undergoing breast reduction surgery to reduce her size from a 34DD to 34C.
Her reason then?
"My ability to react quickly was worse and my breasts made me uncomfortable. I didn't like them in my everyday life, either. I would have gone for surgery even if I hadn't been a sportswoman," said Halep then.
Her decision was vindicated yesterday when she handed Williams, arguably the most dominant player in the history of women's tennis, her worst defeat in 16 years.
The last time the 33-year-old American managed to win just two games in a WTA Tour or Grand Slam match was in 1998, when she was just 16, and the first set was just her second bagel suffered in six years.
The loss also snapped Williams' 16-match winning streak at the year-end championships, where she is the two-time defending champion.
The dainty, 1.68m-tall Halep, though, played it cool when she met the press about an hour after her famous victory.
She wore a wide grin, but added the key to the win was her ability to keep calm on court - something she wanted to maintain.
"Yes, I think it was the best match in my life," said the self-confessed Justine Henin fan. "I had experience to stay very focused and relaxed, and I didn't feel scared after the first set... That was very important for me.
"I played some unbelievable shots. I served well, I returned well, everything went very well for me."
She added: "I played here like in the French Open: without pressure, without expectations.
"Because if I expect something, then I'm very (tense) and I cannot play.
"I came here just to take it match by match and see how far I can go."
Halep's win over Williams yesterday was another big milestone in her breakthrough season.
She had a remarkable first eight months of the year, when she picked up her seventh and eighth WTA titles at Doha and Bucharest, reached her first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros in June, and went as high as No. 2 in the world.
She also reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in January, and the semi-finals of Wimbledon in July.
Halep ranked yesterday's win second behind reaching the Roland Garros final.
It was her first win over a top three-ranked opponent, and her first win over Williams in four attempts.
She was near flawless in the first set, which lasted just 20 minutes.
And, in the second, she came up with arguably the shot of the game, sending a fantastic winner beyond Williams as her opponent was charging towards the net.
In the end, Halep served up 11 winners - the same as Williams - but committed only 12 unforced errors to her rival's 36.
Halep said that the win gave her new-found belief.
"I learnt many things from this match," she said. "I learnt that I have to believe in my chances and just go on court to play my game.... My confidence is now higher.
"It means a lot, this score, but it's not everything. It was just one match, one day."
Halep was touted as a "dark horse" for the WTA Finals title and it is not difficult to see why.
With an aggressive style, sharp movement and smart use of angles, she was named the WTA's Most Improved Player last year, after winning six titles on a variety of surfaces and finished the year at world No.11.
But can she make history in Singapore and emerge an unlikely champion? History is against her.
In the past 30 years, only three players have won the tournament as debutantes: Williams in 2001, Maria Sharapova in 2004 and Petra Kvitova in 2011.
But, after her win over Williams yesterday, Halep will surely believe anything is possible.