When Simona Halep lost to Serena Williams in the final at Cincinnati nearly three weeks ago, she told her as they shook hands at the net that she would be rooting for her to win the Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Open.
There was a catch, of course.
Halep is a match away from a potential meeting with Williams in the Open final. Halep is scheduled to play Flavia Pennetta in the first semifinal Friday while Williams plays Pennetta's countrywoman Roberta Vinci in the other.
The spunky 23-year-old Halep has ascended to No. 2 in the world behind Williams. She lost in the final of two hardcourt tournaments this summer, a return to tennis after a big disappointment at Wimbledon where she lost in the first round. The Romanian is an emotional player who gets mad at herself easily. In her quarterfinal victory against Victoria Azarenka on Wednesday she was demonstrably upset about letting Azarenka hold serve in the first game of the second set.
She took a break -- a real break -- after the Wimbledon ouster. That loss came after a second-round loss at the French Open where the year before she had finished runner-up.
"That [break] helped me to relax myself," she said. "I had a lot of pressure. I put a lot of pressure on myself when I played the French Open, because in my mind was that I have to repeat the result from last year. So it was a bad thing."
Halep said she didn't pick up a racket for six weeks. She returned refreshed and energized, though a lack of energy doesn't ever seem to be a weakness for her. You could say that her overall strength is that she has no weaknesses, and in her 5-6, 132-pound body she generates surprising power.
Azarenka didn't get what she was expecting from Halep.
"I was a little bit surprised by the pace of her ball, to be honest," she said.
Pennetta made the same observation. "Halep, it looks like she's not that powerful like Vika [Azarenka], but she is," Pennetta said. "She is more powerful, I think. To make a winner [against] her you have to finish the point seven times. She is always there, always in, the ball always comes back."
Halep acknowledges that she possesses power, though she views it differently.
"I think I have inside power," Halep said. "I'm not very strong. I don't have big muscles. I'm not tall. I have power inside. I fight. Always it's a big challenge for me. Every point is a big challenge. So I do everything I can. I run for every ball, and that one makes me stronger, I think, in this moment."
In a tense three-set win over Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round, Halep found her inner power kicking in.
"It was an amazing match," Halep said. "All I said is that I cannot lose. So I was fighting and this power came."
Was it something supernatural?
"It's not supernatural," she said with her elfin smile. "It's something normal."
As to what she told Serena about winning the Open to complete the calendar-year Grand Slam, Halep said: "I said if I'm in the final, I want to win."