Tennis

Down 1-5, World No. 3 might have crumbled in past. Now, she’s one win from being No. 1

Simona Halep was not going to let a 1-5 deficit and three set points by Qiang Wang get her crazed Wednesday in the Miami Open.

In the past she might have slammed her racket against the court, engaged in a nasty conversation with herself, put her head down in despair. Not now. Well, not too much, that is.

Halep, the world’s third-ranked tennis player, caught herself quickly enough on Stadium Court to turn a potential meltdown into a triumphant turnaround. She won 12 consecutive points after being down 1-5 in the second set and ultimately won 25 of the final 32 points to defeat Wang 6-4, 7-5 and advance to her first Miami Open semifinal since 2015.

“I started to be a little bit negative and talking around the court,’’ the 27-year-old Romanian said. “But I was able to stop that. I was much better then. I focused on the game. I think I did it pretty well.”

If Halep wins her 9 p.m. Thursday semifinal against the winner of Wednesday night’s Karolina Pliskova-Marketa Vondrousova quarterfinal, she will vault to No. 1 in the world — whether she wins the tournament or not — when the new rankings are released Monday.

The Miami Open marks Halep’s 269th and 270th consecutive weeks in the Top 10. She ended 2018 No. 1 for the second time in her career, after reaching No. 1 for the first time on Oct. 9, 2017.

“Yeah, when I came here, I didn’t think at all about this chance to be No. 1.” Halep said Wednesday at Hard Rock Stadium. “It was very far, and I didn’t want to think about it. But now that I’m one match away, I would take it, and I would take the talking about it, because it gives me a little bit of pressure. But as I said, I play well with pressure, and I think it’s a big challenge. ...It’s a great thing.’’

Turns out that March 2017 at the Miami Open was one of the turning points for Halep, who was formerly coached by Darren Cahill, the man credited for much of her improvement on the court and in her attitude. That year at Miami, Halep was two points away from victory before losing to eventual Miami champion Johanna Konta. After the second second set of that match, Cahill tried to encourage her with a pep-talk.

According to videos recorded that day, Cahill told Halep she was better than Konta and urged her to “Be brave in the big moments.’’

“You can write yourself off but I’m not writing you off,” Cahill said. “It’s up to you. It comes from within.’’

Replied Halep to her coach: “This is my character. Two double faults at the end of the tiebreak and I miss all the balls.”

Cahill and Halep parted ways, but eventually reunited before Cahill stepped down as her coach this past November “to take a 12-month break from coaching to be home more” for his children “with the final year of high school, sports and college preparations all becoming more time consuming,’’ he wrote on Instagram.

Now coached by Daniel Dobre, Halep said she owes Cahill much gratitude.

“After a tough match that I lost because of my negative mind,’’ she said Wednesday, “he told me that I just make myself suffer alone, and that’s why I’m not able to win matches — because my tennis is great. At one point, actually in this city, it was a tough moment. I really want to thank him again for that moment. Turned everything in my head, switched the button, and that’s why I was able to win a Grand Slam [2018 French Open] and to be No. 1.

“...I am much better, way much better than before. In the last two years I think I didn’t have many matches that I lost because of the negativity.

“So, thanks to him.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Roger Federer fan, took a trip to the Miami Open on Wednesday and presented a proclamation thanking IMG and Stephen Ross for keeping the event in Miami. “I was in town making a couple of judicial appointments, but I wanted to come back out here and just wave the flag on behalf of the state of Florida. We really appreciate having events like this.’’

DeSantis said he was a baseball player growing up. “I played all the way through college,’’ DeSantis, a Yale graduate, said. “I went to the Little League World Series. But I was good at tennis because of the hand-eye coordination, so I’ve always liked it. When I was a kid, I loved [Andre] Agassi, I loved [Jim] Courier.

“I think they did a great job,’’ he said of converting Hard Rock Stadium into the Miami Open site, formerly on Key Biscayne. “You look at the center court. I saw a couple other real nice courts. And the fans who were out there were just having a good time. They brought in really good restaurants... You can come here, watch tennis, enjoy the tennis, but even if [you don’t] eat and breathe tennis, you can still have a good time here.’’

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Miami Herald sports writer Susan Miller Degnan has been the Miami Hurricanes football beat writer since 2000, the season before the Canes won it all. She has won several APSE national writing awards and has covered everything from Canes baseball to the College Football Playoff to major marathons to the Olympics.
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