Breast reduction boosts Simona Halep's game

PETER HANLON
Last updated 09:36 15/01/2014
Simona Halep
MATTHEW STOCKMAN/ Getty
'UNCOMFORTABLE': Simona Halep, seen here in 2009, wanted to be able to react more quickly on court.
Simona Halep
MICHAEL DODGE/ Getty
FINE FORM: Simona Halep celebrates winning her first round match at this year's Australian Open.

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Simona Halep finished 2013 as the most improved player on the women's tour, ranked 11 and having won more titles for the year than anyone bar Serena Williams.

She celebrated by leaving her Bucharest tennis base behind and going home to coastal Constanta.

''I stayed with my family and friends, many parties,'' she said.

Six tournament victories - the first of the Romanian's career - and the third-most matches won (53) behind Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska were cause to let her hair down, and she enters the new year with a spring in her step, belief in her mind and revised expectations.

''I want to remain in top 20 this year and my goal is to make quarter-finals at a grand slam.''

This is where the 22-year-old saw herself when, in 2009, Halep made a decision she hoped would change her tennis and her life. Not yet 18, she had breast-reduction surgery.

''For tennis, I did it, and I'm really happy that I did,'' she said.

''I feel very well now, it was a good decision for me.''

As a teenager it was clear Halep had the game to go far - she was the 2008 French Open junior champion - but she soon realised her body was holding her back. And causing her considerable discomfort.

''It's the weight that troubles me,'' she responded at the time to fans who protested online.

''My ability to react quickly, my breasts make me uncomfortable.''

Now, she politely acknowledges what was derided in some circles as self-mutilation in pursuit of sporting success as a very hard step to take, but something she would do again.

To put a rise from the several hundreds to world No.11 down to a drop from 34DD to 34C is trite and disrespects the work Halep has put in to improving her game.

She is proud of her decision, has long moved on, and views several breakthrough moments last year as having released a similarly significant weight from her shoulders.

At Rome in May, she defeated Radwanska en route to the semis, the next month won her maiden title in Nuremberg and immediately backed it up with a second in Holland. It was a transformation.

In Germany, Halep had gone into the first round against a little-known qualifier convinced she would lose, and within a fortnight had beaten a handful of top 20 players.

Soon, she was taking down Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic and Sam Stosur (three times for the year). ''For me, it's more important to beat top players, because you believe more in your chance to be top 10,'' she says of whether greater belief came from tournament wins or individual conquests.

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''My dream is to be top 10, but it will be difficult.''

She played well on grass (pushing Li Na at Wimbledon after winning at 's-Hertogenbosch), on clay and on hardcourts; no other woman won a title on all three surfaces for the year.

''I was more relaxed on court, I had more pleasure and I was very aggressive.''

Halep nominates her forehand and backhand down the line as strong suits, and enjoys playing Stosur because the Australian's forehand plays to her improved backhand side.

She likes to attack, but knows that not being tall (168 centimetres) means consistency on serve will serve her better than bald aggression.

On Tuesday, she dropped just one game against Polish qualifier Katarzyna Piter and was relieved to spend less than an hour in the heat, which was still long enough to blister her hand. Her draw is not exactly littered with land mines and that sought-after quarter-final berth (theoretically against Maria Sharapova) is not beyond reach.

Halep is without a coach, but knows she won't long be able to resist the urgings of her manager, 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici, for much longer.

''Every time I am speaking with her, she tells me that I need a coach,'' she says.

''I am telling her, 'not now', but I will take a coach in short time.''

After returning to the tour in 2010, Halep said she would have had breast reduction surgery whether she was an athlete or not. Now she isn't so certain.

''But for tennis, again, for sure. Tennis is my passion, I do everything I can.''

- The Age

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