CONSTANTA, Romania - It all started with an incredible run in the Eternal City and now, six months later, she's on the brink of the Top 10 - Simona Halep is the WTA's Most Improved Player Of The Year.
For years, Halep had been touted as a future star - a Grand Slam champion and World No.1 in juniors, buckets of talent, even three WTA finals to her name between 2010 and 2012. But she never quite got that one big result - that big breakthrough that served as proof she'd make it just as big in the pros.
Going into the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in May, Halep was still stuck in that place. In her first nine WTA main draws of 2013 she put together a 7-9 record, which - combined with her 5-11 record in her last 11 WTA main draws of 2012 - added up to winning just 12 of her last 32 WTA main draw matches.
Boy, did things turn around in Rome.
As a No.64-ranked qualifier, Halep went on the kind of run that turns a contender into a believer, beating four of the game's biggest names - Svetlana Kuznetsova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Roberta Vinci and Jelena Jankovic - before finally running out of gas against Serena Williams in the semifinals.
"It was an incredible week for me," Halep said after falling to Williams that day. "I feel good that I'm No.44 now. It's difficult to think about how high I can go now, because it's hard work and every week it's difficult for every player, so I just have to keep going and working and we'll see what happens."
What happened was a breakthrough six months - including that run in Rome, Halep went 43-8 in her last 14 WTA main draws of the year, winning her first six WTA titles at Nürnberg, 's-Hertogenbosch, Budapest, New Haven, Moscow and Sofia, and finishing No.11 on the November 4 year-end rankings.
"I want to enjoy this moment and then take some holidays, and just relax," Halep said after capturing the title in Sofia. "Hopefully I can play next year like I played this year and do well in Australia."
All eyes should be on Halep's ranking in Australia - she's just a few hundred points away from the No.10-ranked player in the world and, with little to defend in the first four months of the year, she looks like the best bet to become the next player to break into the world's Top 10 for the first time.
That could be big news in Romania - only two Romanians have ever made the Top 10 on the WTA, namely Virginia Ruzici, who got to No.8, and Irina Spirlea, who got to No.7. How high can Halep go?