Simona Halep: Three Easy-but-Difficult, Safe-but-Risky, Calculated-but-Mindless Backhands

Situation: Having lost the first set, Simona is serving at 4-4 (15-15) in the second set against Sloane Stephens in the 2018 French Open Final.

Sloane floats a weak return just past the service line, so Simona steps in and smacks an 88 mph sharply angled backhand cross-court within a foot of the sideline I submit that tennis is the most beautiful sport there is [35] and also the most demanding. It requires body control, hand-eye coordination, quickness, flat-out speed, endurance, and that weird mix of caution and abandon we call courage. It also requires smarts. Just one single shot in one exchange in one point of a high-level match is a nightmare of mechanical variables. Sloane’s next ball lands two feet deeper, so Simona steps in aggressively and smacks another backhand crosscourt—subtly recalibrated–7-8 mph slower and two feet further away from the sideline No silicon-based RAM yet existent could compute the expansion of variables for even a single exchange; smoke would come out of the mainframe Sloane’s third shot to Simona’s backhand bounces up higher than anticipated while Simona consciously/unconsciously decides or is deciding while adjusting to Sloane’s heavier topspin whether to smack a third consecutive backhand crosscourt or go for the riskier backhand down the line The sort of thinking involved is the sort that can be done only by a living and highly conscious entity, and then it can really be done only unconsciously, i.e., by fusing talent with repetition to such an extent that the variables are combined and controlled without conscious thought nothing worse than losing a fourth consecutive major championship final. Romania is holding its breath. Simona half-strikes half-feathers a Renoir or Monet backhand down the line, a perfect parabolic arc with a sliver of inside-out slice. Sloane anticipated crosscourt. Her left foot slips, almost undetectable, in Halep’s favorite city of Paris where no one can explain a Renoir or Monet brushstroke In other words, serious tennis is a kind of art.

*All the words in italics come from my single favorite paragraph on tennis. It is taken from David Foster Wallace’s book String Theory, pp. 65-66.

Artist Bio: This portrait of Simona Halep is painted by Cat Lee (Colacat). A self-taught artist, Cat Lee (Colacat) produces a wide variety of popular art on tennis. You can check out her tennis art and products on her website. You can also follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

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