How Serena Williams’ former coach brought Simona Halep back from the brink of tennis retirement, one day at a time
The last time Serena Williams faced Halep in the second round of the Australian Open in January, in late January, the U.S. Open quarterfinalist appeared to be headed for what would probably have been her third successive Grand Slam final defeat.
In the first set the German-born Italian seemed to have lost the only match that mattered on the way to a second career Grand Slam title. The second set was an exercise in frustration for the world number five, who eventually came up just short of a record 20th Grand Slam singles title with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 win and a second round appearance for her 10th time at the Australian Open.
It was the first time in six years that Williams had lost two sets in a single tournament and, in hindsight, perhaps the first major upset she had experienced in more than four years. She had never lost a set in all of the six years from 2010 to 2013.
“I was pretty disappointed in the way I played on Monday,” she said in February. “Maybe I didn’t have the necessary focus or concentration to play it the way I needed to play it on serve or the way I think I need to play it. But I’m glad it happened, and I’m glad I got through it.”
The following day, Serena had a conversation with Halep. The two had met on two previous occasions prior to the Australian Open but this was the first time they had been face-to-face since the match. On this occasion she had a message from her coach to convey.
‘I’m the one who has to apologize’
“I’m in a bad situation,” Halep said. “And I’m the one who has to apologize to her for what happened, and I do it. I don’t mean it in a bad way, of course, but you know, because I’m the one who has to apologize to her, ’cause all I did was to say, ‘I’m sorry, coach.’ Because, in the history of me and this tennis, I’m the only one who can say I’m sorry, and I’m sorry.”
Serena had asked the 22-year-old Halep to take part in her training program after Williams had suffered two consecutive losses at the Australian Open in January 2011: in the