It is one thing to be named the WTA’s 'Most Improved Player', and another to bring that accolade into a major and prove that you are deserving of the award.
Romanian Simona Halep did that and more on Monday when she knocked out former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic 6-4 3-6 6-0 to move into her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open.
It wasn't until the second half of last season that the 22-year-old showed herself to be a potentially elite player, when she won six tournaments and reached the year-end No. 11 ranking.
Given that she had never won a title before she a tournament at Nurnberg in July and then managed to grab five more before the season concluded in Sofia, her progress has been remarkable.
A strong young woman who can rip the ball off both wings, Halep had been considered a mentally questionable competitor, but is much more self-secure now and came into the tournament without a coach.
She owns victories over a slew of elite players including Agnieszka Radwanska, Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic and Sam Stosur. On Monday, Jankovic became another high-profile victim.
''For me, it's more important to beat top players, because you believe more in your chance to be top 10,'' Halep told the Sydney Morning Herald last week. ''My dream is to be top 10, but it will be difficult.''
Halep is only 168cm tall, but has the ability to attack when given the right opportunities. She could have folded after Jankovic clipped the lines and hit through her in the second set, but she was very steady in the final set, committing 12 errors while Jankovic committed a whopping 21.
Halep showed a lot of courage in the match, ripping a forehand down the line to win it.
“She played really well in second set,” Halep said.
“I was a little bit tired after first set. I don't know why. But my energy was very down. After that, at 5‑2 I said that I have to lose the set and to try to come back for the third one. I was to the bathroom, and I was a little bit ready to play third set. I said that I have nothing to lose. It's my chance to fight for every point and for the match, for my dream. I did really well. I was very aggressive in third set and I hit the ball.”
She will face Dominika Cibulkova in the quarterfinals, who won their last contest in two tight sets on hard courts at Indian Wells last year.
Halep said that after overcoming Radwanska in Rome last May, she knew that she could go toe-to-toe with anyone.
“Before that I was thinking that is impossible to beat her because her game is very different, it's strange for me,” she said.
“It's not easy to play. And after that I had confidence that I can beat the top players and to be there in the top level.”