LONDON, Great Britain - Less than one hour after stepping out onto Centre Court, Simona Halep sank to her knees in disbelief. The No.7 seed had just played the tennis of her life against Serena Williams - who was going for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam crown - and claimed the victory with a stunning 6-2, 6-2 scoreline in the final to become the first Romanian woman to win at Wimbledon.
“I wanted this badly,” Halep told press after the championship match. “When I started the tournament, I talked to the people from the locker room that my dream is to become a member here. So today it's real and I'm really happy.”
After 56 minutes of high-quality tennis, the newest member of the All England Club emerged victorious after a Serena forehand landed in the net. She did it in dominant style, too: Halep broke the big-serving Serena four times in two sets, and saved the only break point she faced.
“I felt my legs that are very soft after I won the last point,” she recalled. “I didn't know actually how to react. I just did natural what it came in my inside.
“It's tough to describe the moment. You just feel, like, light, you feel everything it's beautiful, and you just try to enjoy.”
Halep’s road to her second Grand Slam title was an unlikely one, and one riddled with landmines: admittedly not a natural on grass, the Romanian had to negotiate battles against nemeses Elina Svitolina and Zhang Shuai, end teenage Coco Gauff’s dream Wimbledon run, and edge past former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka to book her spot in the final.
“I never thought [that winning Wimbledon was a possibility],” she admitted. “I'm very honest. I never thought that I'm able to win on grass with all these players that are very tall and serving with a lot of power. But this year, as I said every day, I started to feel the game more and more. I started to feel safe on court, which helped me a lot to believe.”
According to Halep, that dream seemed even more “far away” considering that back home in Romania there aren’t even grass courts to practice on.
“It was tough to believe because we don't even have a court, grass court, in Romania. That's something far. But I knew if we be patient and if we work hard, we get the feeling of the grass court.”
Halep looked right at home from the moment she stepped out on Centre Court against the 23-time Grand Slam champion, staying intense knowing that if she pulled back for even a moment Serena would be right back in the contest.
“I knew that I have to be aggressive, being 100% for every ball, that I don't have to let her come back to the match because [Serena] is so powerful and so strong,” she said. “She knows how to manage every moment. So I knew that I have to stay there, which I did pretty well today.
“I'm very sure that was the best match of my life. Also on grass against her is never easy. I'm really proud of my game of today and the whole tournament.”
Despite her newfound confidence on the surface, Halep still came into the final trailing 1-9 in their head-to-head record against the seven-time Wimbledon champion - but for both players, everything came back to that lone Halep win at the 2014 WTA Finals group stage, 6-0, 6-2.
Ahead of the championship match, Serena admitted that she still had that WTA Finals loss on her mind, despite later avenging the loss in the final of the same tournament.
“I think the biggest key with our matches is the loss that I had,” Serena told press after her semifinal win. “I never forgot it. She played unbelievable. That makes me know that level she played at, she can get there again. So I have to be better than that.”
As it turns out, Halep never forgot it either, also drawing inspiration from the same match. “Today I just went for it like in Singapore,” she said in her press conference. “I had that image in my head. I really believed there is the chance to do the same thing. I knew I have to stay there every ball. Otherwise, when she comes back, she's very powerful.
“I knew exactly what I have to do to put her in trouble, not letting her make her game. When she has time, she plays unbelievable. I played many times against her. I knew how the ball is coming. I knew what she doesn't like that much.”
In the midst of what she calls her “chill year”, Halep came into the tournament with no expectations. Finding herself mentally and physically exhausted at the end of last year after her French Open exploits, the Romanian made sure to prioritize rest and relaxation this time around.
“I wanted to relax as a person, not as a player,” she explained. “I still work hard for every day, every match, every tournament. That's why I was able to win this tournament now in this moment.”
It was probably that change in mentality that ultimately helped power Halep to victory during the Wimbledon fortnight, and especially in the final: Halep had fallen short in three Grand Slam finals before her Roland Garros triumph last year.
“It's never easy to face a Grand Slam final,” she admitted. “You can get intimidated by the moment. You can get nervous, too nervous.
“I have learned that it's a normal match, not thinking that much about the trophy, just going there and try to be the best as you can. So I did that.
“I said that every time I would play a final of Grand Slam, I will do exactly the same thing.”