Simona Halep's impressive, straight-sets victory over Sloane Stephens at the French Open was just the latest big win in the 22-year-old Romanian's meteoric rise the past year.
Halep was named the WTA's Most Improved Player for 2013 when she won the first six singles titles of her career. The 5-foot-6 Halep's calling card is her athleticism and scrappiness, two traits that she has been able to exploit thanks in part to surgery she had five years ago to reduce the size of her breasts.
Feeling uncomfortable with her breasts and also experiencing back pain, Halep had undergone a procedure that took her from a 34DD to a 34C bra size. The difference, she says, has been instrumental in helping her climb more than 450 places in the world rankings to No. 4.
"My ability to react quickly was worse and my breasts made me uncomfortable," Halep told reporters at the time of her operation. "It's the weight that troubles me. My ability to react quickly, my breasts make me uncomfortable when I play."
— Telegraph Sport (@TelegraphSport) May 28, 2014
Halep's quarterfinal berth in Paris is the furthest she has advanced at the French Open, and it ties her best career performance at a Grand Slam. Earlier this year she advanced to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open.
Some experts believe Halep's surgery, and her openness about it, sparked a trend among young female athletes. According to Cosmetic Surgery National Data Bank statistics, more than 100,000 women had breast reduction surgeries in 2012, with some of the procedures aimed at alleviating pain during sports.
"I think she really caused a breakthrough, where all of a sudden this was not a taboo topic," Megan Greenwell, senior editor at ESPN magazine, told ABC News of Halep's surgery. "When you see people at the highest levels talking openly about these things, that opens the floodgates for other people to discuss it as a real issue."
For Halep, the decision was a relatively easy one. She says she would have done the same thing had she not been a tennis standout.
"I didn't like them in my everyday life, either," she said. "I would have gone for surgery even if I hadn't been a sportswoman.”
Halep faces 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals.
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