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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Serena Williams will have tough task in dethroning Simona Halep as the reigning queen of tennis

World No 1 will arrive at US Open full of confidence that she can cap best year of career in style

World No 1 Simona Halep has enjoyed a successful run-up to the US Open this year. Reuters
World No 1 Simona Halep has enjoyed a successful run-up to the US Open this year. Reuters

A lot of the focus in the tennis world of late has focused on the ebbs and flows of the return of Serena Williams to the WTA Tour since becoming a mother.

It is understandable given that Williams is the greatest player of her generation and one of the best female players ever.

There is widespread fascination in witnessing the American's pursuit of her 24th major and adding even more success to her already illustrious career.

But that is slightly unfair to the current best player in the world in the women's game, Simona Halep, who has maintained her impressive 2018 with a strong past two weeks at the Masters events in Montreal and then Cincinnati.

She won the Rogers Cup in Canada with a fine victory over Sloane Stephens in the final.

She proved she can now perform at a top level consistently with her run to the final in Cincinnati on Sunday, where she fell short as she lost 6-2, 6-7, 6-2 to Kiki Bertens.

Two titles would have been nice, but Halep can take heart from the fact she had a championship point in the second set against Bertens before she fell away in the final set.

Halep is not sweeping all before her in the way Williams did in her pomp, but her tenacity and ability to produce strong performances on a regular basis is why she is 2,086 points clear of No 2 Caroline Wozniacki in the rankings.

Simona Halep poses with the trophy after winning the French Open final against Sloane Stephens. EPA
Simona Halep poses with the trophy after winning the French Open final against Sloane Stephens. EPA

The Romanian may not be going to the US Open, which starts on August 27, with the Cincinnati winners' trophy secured, but she will arrive in New York full of confidence that she can cap the best year of her career in style.

Halep has reached six finals already this year, winning in Shenzhen, Montreal and most importantly her first grand slam title when she conquered Stephens at the French Open in June.

That milestone victory highlighted the other key attribute that has impressed about Halep this year: her mental strength.

The 26 year old lost the Australian Open final in January to Wozniacki in one of the best grand slam finals in years as two women, neither of whom had won a major before, left it all out on the court.

It was Wozniacki who prevailed that night in Melbourne, but despite requiring medical attention after the encounter and spending a night in hospital recovering from severe dehydration, it is Halep who has kicked on.

Wozniacki has reached just one final since Australia, which she won in Eastbourne in June, while Halep has established herself, not always as the victor, but as a consistent presence at the business end of a tournament.

Her advantage over Wozniacki may grow considerably in the next few weeks. Halep was knocked out in the first round of the US Open 12 months ago by Maria Sharapova, but her evolution as a player means that it would be a big surprise if she not make it deep into the second week.

She has never reached the final in New York before, a run to the semi-finals in 2015 is as good as she gone in the past.

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Serena Williams has shown flashes of her power and brilliance amid some disappointing results since she came back to action. AFP
Serena Williams has shown flashes of her power and brilliance amid some disappointing results since she came back to action. AFP

Halep, 26, would join an elite crowd if she makes it to the final this time around. In the past 20 years only Williams, Angelique Kerber, Venus Williams, Justine Henin, Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis have reached three slam finals in a calendar year.

It would be the icing on the cake of a fine season and underline that Halep, in terms of overall play, is the cream of the crop right now.

She went to No 1 for the first time 10 months ago and at the time there was much consternation that she had got there having not won a major.

Those questions over her worthiness seem rather daft now as she has taken control of the No 1 spot, and has looked increasingly comfortable with the status.

Williams may still climb back to the top of the sport, having shown flashes of her power and brilliance amid some disappointing results since she came back to action.

But thanks to the efforts of Halep, it will be a tough task for her to regain her place on top of the rankings and not something she will achieve anytime soon.