She might be the No. 2-ranked player in the world, but Simona Halep is still pretty new at playing on the biggest stages of tennis.
This year, she's gotten her share of star calls, playing on the feature court of the three previous majors. She made the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, the final at the French Open, and the semifinals at Wimbledon. Those performances and a couple of tournament victories this year earned her an 11 a.m. appointment Monday as the first match at Arthur Ashe Stadium of the 2014 U.S. Open. It wasn't easy, as her opponent, and the Ashe court, took some getting used to.
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Halep, a 22-year-old Romanian, has made a steady climb in the world rankings from 47th at the start of 2012 to breaking into the top 10 at the start of this season. She had to play like a No. 2 seed Monday, rallying to defeat NCAA champion Danielle Rose Collins, 6-7 (7-2), 6-1, 6-2.
Halep, upon finding out that her first match was scheduled for Ashe, said, "Wow."
"It is not easy to see that you play first match of tournament on center court," Halep said.
After losing the first set Monday, it was more like "Ow."
Collins was serving well and hit powerful ground strokes, giving Halep fits. Collins had broken back to eventually take the first set to a tiebreaker, which she dominated. Halep simply wanted to get out of it.
"Last point of first set, I just wanted to hit the ball out to finish that set because it was incredibly tough for me," said Halep, who then, ahem, took a bathroom break where she had a talk with herself. "I said, look, you have nothing to lose. Go on court and try your best," said Halep, who asserted that she can make herself believe she has nothing to lose, even as the world's No. 2 player. "Yes, I can. That helped me, always."
She was more aggressive in the last two sets, staying close to the baseline, painting the lines on Collins' side, placing her serve better, cutting down on errors and ramping up the pressure.
Speaking of pressure, she's feeling it, and it's a good thing.
"I can say more pressure because everyone is telling me that I have chance to win this title," Halep said. "But still, I am very far . . . Every match like today was tough, and every match is tough here."
Being a genuine contender will pretty much guarantee that most of her remaining matches will be at Ashe. She did have one previous appearance, a loss against Jelena Jankovic in 2010.
"I lost that match, but it was a good match, I remember," she said. "It's not easy to play on this court because it is very big. It's the biggest you see. Wherever you look, you see people."
Halep lost in the French Open final to Maria Sharapova in June, playing on the show court at Roland Garros. It's a big stage, but it isn't Ashe. "[Ashe] is bigger and more blue," Halep, who gladly will get used to the color, said with a smile.