40 LOVE History: Romanian Renaissance

After some sizzling summer results, Sorana Cirstea and Simona Halep are on the verge of breaking into the Top 20 right now. Only three Romanians have broken that elite before - who are they?

Published August 20, 2013 12:01

40 LOVE History: Romanian Renaissance
Virginia Ruzici, Chris Evert

There's a very talented crop of young Romanian players on the WTA at the moment, and spearheading the movement are Sorana Cirstea and Simona Halep, who - after some sizzling results this summer - are on the verge of breaking into the Top 20. Who are the three Romanians that broke it before them?

The first to break it - Virginia Ruzici - was arguably the most accomplished Romanian in WTA history. Ruzici won by far more WTA titles than any other Romanian with 11, but perhaps more significantly, one of those titles was the 1978 French Open, making her Romania's only Grand Slam champion.

Ruzici would go as high as No.8 in the world in 1979 and eventually retired from the tour in 1987.

The next two Romanians to break the Top 20 elite - Irina Spirlea and Ruxandra Dragomir Ilie - were contemporaries, both actually reaching their peak in 1997. That year saw them both record their best Grand Slam performances (Spirlea the semifinals of the US Open, Dragomir Ilie the quarterfinals of the French Open) and reach their career-high rankings (Spirlea No.7, Dragomir Ilie No.15). They both won four WTA titles during their career but would also both be retired in the early-to-mid 2000s.

And then, a little bit of a drought - though there have been a number of talented Romanians winning WTA titles and climbing into the Top 30, none have broken the Top 20 since then, though now Cirstea and Halep seem on the verge big time, with Cirstea currently at No.21 and Halep just behind at No.23.

Since leaving Wimbledon, Cirstea has put together a very strong 10-3 record, reaching the semifinals of Stanford, the quarterfinals of Washington DC and the final of Toronto, which was a career-defining result - she beat three Top 10 players along the way before finally falling to Serena Williams.

"I think it's the start of something good," Cirstea said in Toronto. "I've already said, many, many times before, that I was working really hard before I came to the hardcourt season. I had strong weeks in Stanford and Washington, and I continued that form here. So it's not a coincidence. Everything is based on hard work. Everyone can see that I have been doing some great steps in the right direction.

"I'm just very excited to keep these things going and just make this mentality a habit now."

Cirstea was actually the darling of the tournament, winning fans over match after match with her inspired play, and probably won more hearts over with an emotional runner-up speech after the final.

"I was a little bit disappointed because I wanted to play better today - I knew I could play better," she said. "It was mixed feelings out there, but even if I won today, I would probably still be crying!"

Halep has had an absolute breakthrough last few months as well. There was some foreshadowing just before Roland Garros as she made it all the way to the semifinals in Rome, but it was after the French where she took it to another level, winning her first two WTA titles in back-to-back weeks at Nürnberg and 's-Hertogenbosch, then - after Wimbledon - winning her third WTA title right away at Budapest. This past week Halep made it to the quarterfinals in Cincinnati, taking out Marion Bartoli and Samantha Stosur along the way - her win over Bartoli was the Frenchwoman's last professional match.

Which one of Cirstea and Halep will break the Top 20 first? Will some of the other Romanians - Monica Niculescu, Irina-Camelia Begu, Alexandra Cadantu, Alexandra Dulgheru, Edina Gallovits-Hall and Raluca Olaru, to name a few - follow suit? Only time will tell - watch this space, there's more to come...

Ruxandra Dragomir Ilie, Iva Majoli

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