Simona Halep handed Serena Williams her most lopsided Grand Slam final loss to clinch the Wimbledon title on Saturday and there will be few more popular champions.
Humble and grounded, Halep had already showed incredible resolve to win the 2018 Roland Garros title having lost all three of her previous Slam finals.
She further endeared herself by announcing before that Paris final that she “would be okay” if she lost again, as “no-one would have died”.
Halep, 27, is only the second Romanian woman to win a major after Virginia Ruzici claimed the 1978 French Open. Ruzici is now her manager.
Before her 2018 Roland Garros breakthrough, Halep had suffered three agonising defeats when one set from glory at the Majors.
She lost the 2014 Roland Garros final to Maria Sharapova and the 2017 championship match in Paris after leading Jelena Ostapenko by a set and 3-0.
Her third came earlier in 2018 against another perennial underachiever on the biggest stage, Caroline Wozniacki, in a marathon match in sweltering conditions at Melbourne Park.
Halep became world No 1 in August 2017 and her 2018 French Open win over Sloane Stephens made her the first player to win her first Grand Slam title while holding the top ranking.
A huge star in her home country – Halep has appeared on the front cover of Romania’s ‘Elle’ magazine and opened a restaurant called ‘SH’ in her hometown of Constanta, which lies on the Black Sea.
“The fact that I am able to win maybe will give an inspiration also to Romanians, the kids, that it’s possible, even if you come from a little country, it’s possible if you work and if you believe.”
One of the main reasons why Halep had to wait so long to lift a major title was her relative lack of power when compared to the game’s other big stars.
But she has found compensation. “I’m fast, though, no?”
Halep, who Sports Illustrated once described as an ‘anti-diva’, now has $33 million banked from her career. But she has not been seduced by the glitter of the sports world.
On Saturday, she made a point of thanking her mother for inspiration while light-heartedly winning the hearts of the All England Club.
“My mom said when I was 10 that if I want to do something in tennis I have to play in the final at Wimbledon,” she told Centre Court. “I had lots of nerves, my stomach wasn’t very well.
She added: “I said at the start of the tournament that one of my motivations was to win and become a lifetime member of the club!” Her folksy charm has also seduced hardened reporters.
She only follows two people on Twitter – one is former coach Darren Cahill and the other, bizarrely, is three-time world snooker champion Mark Selby.
“I have no idea how you play snooker. But I appreciate him,” said Halep. “He’s been in Romania a few times. I met him. Also I have a snooker ball signed from him. That’s why I follow him.”
Halep has also expressed a childlike delight in the British royal family, confessing she’s a particular fan of the Duchess of Cambridge.
“Kate’s my favourite,” said Halep as the object of her regal affection looked down from the Royal Box.
But there still remains a steely streak, illustrated by the decision she made 10 years ago to undergo breast reduction surgery.
“It’s the weight that troubles me. My ability to react quickly, my breasts make me uncomfortable when I play,” she once said.
“I didn’t like them in my everyday life, either. I would have gone for surgery even if I hadn’t been a sportswoman.”