INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - No.2 seed Simona Halep celebrated International Women’s Day in style, notching a solid two-set victory over Barbora Strycova to advance into the third round at the BNP Paribas Open.
It was a tough win in even tougher conditions, despite the straight-forward seeming 6-2, 6-4 scoreline. For one, the weather in Indian Wells was cold and swirling, 45 F degrees (7 C) in the desert night with blustering winds.
And for another, she had to handle the challenge on her own as she remains without a coach after ending her trial with Thierry Van Cleemput in February.
But there was even more cause to celebrate for Halep, as her opening victory coincided with International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on March 8.
The theme of International Women’s Day 2019 is “Balance for Better”, and the associated campaign seeks to create a gender-balanced world by ‘celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.’
“It's very big day. For us, it's a big day,” Halep explained in her post-match press conference. “Everyone is celebrating, the women, and everyone is going out.
“Actually, I ordered some flowers for my mom, I send her. It's a big thing in Romania. And every year I'm here, so I'm a little bit sad that I cannot celebrate, but I will have time after.”
Back home in Romania, Halep enjoys the unique position of being her country’s biggest sports star right now - male or female, team or individual. And while “Si-mo-na” chants have been heard at tennis stadium for years, Halep’s star has skyrocketed in recent years with her historic rise to the WTA World No.1 ranking and her victory at Roland Garros to claim her country’s first Grand Slam title since the 1970s.
Halep told press in Indian Wells that she’s relishing the dual roles of sports hero and role model, and she hopes that her achievements can inspire young girls in Romania and beyond.
“I think they can see and they can believe that a woman can do anything in this world,” Halep said. “We can achieve anything. We can be a successful woman and, you know, there is no limit. We don't have to think that only men can do these big things. We also, women, can do anything in this world.
“So I think they could take from my career this: That if you never give up, you can achieve anything.”
It’s a message that resonated with Halep, who admitted that she didn’t have any role models of her own to look up to as a young girl looking to break into the professional sports world.
“I didn't have people around me to tell me this [when I was younger],” she told. “I had big support from my family, and they always told me that I'm strong enough to do big things. But from someone else, no.”