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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Simona Halep deserves No 1 ranking despite lack of grand slam titles

Being world's top-ranked woman player highlights ability over period of time, while a major is played over just two weeks and there is always element of luck of draw

Simona Halep has been a permanent fixture in women's tennis since January 2014. Mark Schiefelbei / AP Photo
Simona Halep has been a permanent fixture in women's tennis since January 2014. Mark Schiefelbei / AP Photo

Even the hardest of hearts would have struggled not to be happy for Simona Halep when her victory over Jelena Ostapenko at the China Open on Saturday meant she would be world No 1 for the first time when the WTA rankings were published on Monday.

Tears, cuddling a bouquet shaped as a '1' and lots of smiling were all on show as the Romanian celebrated her climb to the top.

She was so happy she conceded that she struggled to sleep that night as she tried to take in her accomplishment, and that played a part in her laboured performance in the final on Sunday as she lost in straight sets to unseeded Caroline Garcia.

But, even in her moment of joy on Saturday, Halep acknowledged the one sticking point to her coronation at the top of the game - the lack of any grand slam titles in her trophy cabinet.

"I have just to restart everything, to start again to play the same and to work harder," she said. "And I have a few more dreams in my career.”

Asked during what those were, she added: “I tell you one, only one: to win a grand slam, which you know.”

The 26-year-old has played in 32 majors in her career so far and has not won any of them, with runners-up spots at the French Open this year and in 2014 being as close as she has got.

Indeed her defeat to Ostapenko at Roland Garros in June is the one that should have been her breakthrough as she won the first set, then led by a break in the seconds and third sets before capitulating as she lost the last five games to lose 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 to an opponent who had not won a WTA Tour title of any note prior to that occasion.

Consistency is behind Halep leapfrogging Garbine Muguruza at the top. She has won only one WTA title in 2017, in Madrid in May, but has lost in four other finals, and reached at least the quarter-finals of eight tournaments in total.

She is on 6,175 points, 40 ahead of Muguruza, and during the year she has had a number of impressive wins over US Open winner Sloane Stephens, Maria Sharapova, Johanna Konta, Victoria Azarenka and Karolina Pliskova.

But none of them have helped her tick grand slam winner of her achievements list.

She is not the first player to become No 1 without a major to her name, and she almost certainly will not be the last.

In the past 10 years Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina, Caroline Wozniacki and Pliskova all spent time at No 1 without ever being a champion at one of the four majors.

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One explanation is the dominance of Serena Williams, who has won 23 majors, including the Australian Open this year, and would in all likelihood be still No 1 had she not taken time out of playing this year to become a mother.

Halep has been a permanent fixture in the women's top 10 since January 2014 so her consistency is unquestionable.

Being around in the Williams era, the luck of the draw, and her own apparent weaknesses in big match situations can all be looked at as causes for being yet to win the proverbial big one.

But, would winning a grand slam trophy be that big a deal? You do not spend almost four years in the top 10 and get to No 1 without having a strong game.

Being No 1 highlights your ability over a period of time, a major is played over just two weeks and there is always an element of luck of the draw.

Rafael Nadal enjoyed a relatively less challenging draw to win the US Open title this season. Mike Segar / Reuters
Rafael Nadal enjoyed a relatively less challenging draw to win the US Open title this season. Mike Segar / Reuters

Rafael Nadal won his 16th grand slam at the US Open last month, but he did not beat any player ranked in the top 20 on his way to winning in New York.

Now, that is not the Spaniard's fault. You can only beat what is in front of you and he did just that.

But it highlights that just because you won a major does not mean you had to beat the cream of the crop to achieve it.

Halep's collapse against Ostapenko hinted at a lack of confidence and belief in herself at key moments.

She will hope that becoming the 25th woman to be No 1 since the WTA rankings were launched will help her build belief and kick on and finally join the grand slam winners club in 2018.