The smile is back on Simona Halep’s face. The Romanian shed a few tears after the heart-breaking loss in the final of the Australian Open to Caroline Wozniacki last month. But a three-week break from the game seems to have given Halep time to overcome the agonising defeat at Melbourne Park.
Halep not just lost her No. 1 ranking to Wozniacki in the aftermath of the Australian Open defeat, she is now 0-3 in major single finals and has lost all of them in three sets.
Every time she thought she was closer to realising her Grand Slam dream, the 27-year-old has seen the trophy slip away.
In the 2014 French Open final, Halep lost 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4 to Maria Sharapova, while a free-swinging unseeded 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia came back from the brink of defeat to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, in last year’s French Open final. Halep was up, 3-1, in the final set before dropping the final five games.
The Australian Open loss was equally a hard pill to swallow for Halep. She had saved match points in two matches — in the third round against the unseeded American Lauren Davis and in the titanic semi-final against former No. 1 Angelique Kerber.
But an ankle injury and a determined Wozniacki, who herself was chasing her maiden Slam — shattered Halep’s dream in a 2-hour-49-minute final played on a sweltering Australian summer.
Now in Doha for the Qatar Total Open, after a much-needed break to her bruised body and recovering from mental fatigue, Halep is ready to restart her season. Having had time to reflect her Australian Open loss, she even said “everything was beautiful at that tournament”.
“It was really nice to see that the people appreciated the way I fought and the way I played,” Halep said yesterday at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex.
“They also appreciated my speech, which I was a little bit surprised because I didn’t feel that it was something special. But it was nice. Everything was beautiful at that tournament, even if I lost the final, I took only the positives and I’m really motivated to go ahead. So everything was really good for me. Also the game, I changed a little bit, so I want just to keep it, and now just to play every match like there. But I will be careful with my health, of course,” she added.
Halep was back on court practising only last week and hopes that her ankle and foot is ready for match play for the upcoming hard-court tournaments.
“The foot is okay now, but I have just to play an official match to see if it stays like that. I really hope that nothing will come back and I will be able to play,” Halep said. “My mind is set on the health first. I have to be very sure that the foot is okay and I can push. I’m ready because I practised a few days. I practised today. I will practice again today here. So I feel that I’m ready to play, but tomorrow I will see exactly how it is.”
A champion here in Doha in 2014, Halep will open her campaign today against Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova, against whom she has won her last two complete matches. For Halep, the next five days also presents an opportunity to reclaim her No. 1 ranking.
Seeded second, the Romanian must make the quarter-finals to have a chance to unseat Wozniacki. If both Halep and Wozniacki advance to the quarter-finals then Halep will need to go one round further than the Dane to overtake her. The two can only meet in the final, and it would be quite a title clash if both women manage to come out unscathed till that stage.
“Everyone from Top 10 is able to win any tournament and any match,” Halep said, not looking far ahead of herself. “So I’m just ready to face anyone, and I’m just focusing on myself because if you pay attention to yourself, it’s much better. You don’t get distracted by anything. Just do your job on court.”
At the Australian Open, Halep also made news for playing without a clothing sponsor after her Adidas contract had expired. The red dress she wore during the tournament was something she designed in a hurry, which was then hand-sewn by a seamstress in China. It became a social media joke, with Halep saying in jest that she had ordered her dress online.
Yesterday, however she was all smiles as she revealed that she had signed a deal with Nike, which the Romanian media reported to be worth $2 million a year. Some money earned from that deal might go to shopping in Doha!
“Well, for sure the shopping,” Halep said when asked what she liked about Doha. “And I have already planned something. It’s a nice city. The weather is perfect this period, and also the people are very nice with me. So I enjoy the time here,” she added.
Halep might like Doha even more if she goes on to lift the Qatar Total Open title this Sunday and wrestle back the No. 1 ranking.
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