On Monday, Simona Halep will be called the best female tennis player in the world by the Women’s Tennis Association.
Simona will join such legends as Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Serena Williams, and other women who have been ranked Number One.
Let’s be clear: Simona has a solid, consistent game that has taken her to the top of her sport and to two French Open finals, both of which she lost. She has also, but just once, reached the semifinals of the US Open and Wimbledon. She hits with power and covers all corners of the court with great speed.
Consider this: Evonne Goolagong, who won seven major championships, only held the top ranking for two weeks in 1976, and due to the early days of computer rankings, her belated but well-deserved recognition as the best female tennis players in the world early in 1976 only came in 2007.
After winning the Australian and US Opens in 2011, Kim Clijsters held the top spot for exactly one week. Earlier in her career, in 2003, Kim was ranked first in the world for 12 non-consecutive weeks, at that time the first player to gain that honor without winning a Grand Slam singles title.
Other players followed Kim who are not exactly household names for the average tennis fan: Dinara Safina, Jelena Jankovic, Caroline Wozniacki. All three could technically claim to be the best player in the world, but without ever having held the winner’s trophy of a Grand Slam tournament, did they or tennis devotees believe in their hearts that they truly were?
As a high school poet, I often did very well in competitions, but usually I was a finalist, with many second and third places and honorable mentions. My placing in those contests helped me obtain college scholarships. Was I ever Number One? Only once! I’ll never forget it. The envelope arrived in the mail and I was speechless. So was my mother who taught poets. I felt like I had won Wimbledon or in my case the junior Wimbledon tournament!
Nearly a year ago, at a conference in Honolulu for fundraising professionals, the featured speaker mentioned his days as a high school poet who had entered the same contests I had. I introduced myself to him during the lunch break. It was the first time we had actually met even though we knew each other’s names from way back when. I asked if he still wrote poetry. He said that he had stopped decades ago. He asked if I did. I told him that I still write about 20 new poems a year and have recently been published. We laughed about the contests where we competed against each other as teenagers.
I think of real poets as those who live and breathe poetry. I wish I did, but succeeding at parenthood, my marriage, my job, and devoting energy to my faith take precedence over spending more time I could or want to give to poetry.
Most of us can never even contemplate what it would mean to the best in anything. If we are fortunate, we can focus on what I believe really counts in life: finding and staying in love, becoming and staying a decent person, giving back to others, learning to let go.
Simona Halep is among the very few in this world who can ask herself what being Number One truly means. That alone is a stunning achievement. But until she wins a major championship, it will be one with a footnote for tennis historians.