Simona Halep: ‘I told my family I was done with tennis, but I still love it’ | Simona Halep

men a sport filled with so much uncertainty, where anyone can beat another on any given day, Simona Halep was long one of the few pillars of consistency at the top of women’s tennis. She landed inside the top 10 at age 22 in 2014 and stayed for seven and a half years. During those seasons, Halep built a hall of fame career: two Grand Slam titles; 23 WTA titles in total; 64 weeks at number 1 in the world.

Despite her initial shyness and hesitation, Halep was always there. He was always brave enough to face the next challenge and give it his all, even knowing it might mean falling.

That’s what made last season so difficult. For the first time in his career, he couldn’t even introduce himself. “It was the hardest year of my life,” says the 30-year-old in an interview at the start of the grass-court season in Birmingham. “He had that injury that he didn’t know how to handle. It was the biggest injury of my life, so it was very hard. I missed two Grand Slams. I was four months away. So it was not easy to manage and manage.”

In May of last year, Halep was playing Angelique Kerber in Rome when she tore her calf muscle and eventually withdrew from the match. Her first significant career injury ended her 373-week tenure in the top 10 since 2014, the eighth-longest consecutive streak in WTA history, and her time away from the sport carried her mind. to difficult places. She began to question what was left of her career: “I didn’t know if my body would last any longer,” she says.

During the offseason, his doubts festered and the positive front he put up early in 2022 collapsed. He concluded that retirement was probably imminent: “I played well in Australia. But then after losing in Doha I fell back. In fact, I told my family and those close to me that I am probably done with tennis because I felt that I have no more power to fight and stay there to be resistant”, says Halep.

Resilience is a characteristic that has come to define Halep’s career. She was already present when she was a child in the port city of Constanta, Romania, without any kind of system, path or recent model. “Everything she had was from my parents,” she says. “So it wasn’t easy. It’s not easy when you play with this pressure, because it’s your family’s money. But now I am more satisfied that we did it together.”

He was also essential as he established himself in the top 10 and began to pursue his ultimate dreams. Since 2014, Halep has reached three Grand Slam finals and brutally lost them all.

There was an instant three-set classic against Maria Sharapova at the French Open in 2014. Then came an excruciating loss to newcomer Jelena Ostapenko in the 2017 final at Roland Garros after Halep led 3-0 on a break point. in the third set. Then, after a string of marathons at the 2018 Australian Open, Halep’s efforts in her narrow three-set loss to Caroline Wozniacki left her in hospital on an IV drip.

The pursuit of a Grand Slam title broke his body, but somehow it actually strengthened his mind.

“I was so close most of the time,” he says, smiling. “I really wanted it. I was depressed after I lost them. But after Australia 2018, I didn’t feel bad. I said he’s coming. So there I have the confidence that I am very close to that. And if I don’t give up, it will happen.”

Such brutal defeats would have killed the spirit of many great players. To explain why that was not the case for her, Halep recalls a recent conversation she had with Patrick Mouratoglou, her new coach: “He asked me if I really believed as a child that I would be a champion, win a grand slam and be No. 1. I said : ‘I never said that. And I never trusted that [enough to be] vocal, strong But inside, by not giving up, I think I knew I had a chance to do it. So I probably trusted myself.” Only over time has he come to understand that beneath that shyness and perfectionism, his inner self-confidence is formidable. She won her first Grand Slam final on the first opportunity after her loss to Wozniacki, beating Sloane Stephens at the French Open.

A year later, Halep surpassed her own wildest expectations, dismantling Serena Williams 6-2, 6-2 in the 2019 Wimbledon final to win her second Grand Slam title – and on grass, the surface that for so long had not. it suited him. Halep considers her to be the closest she has ever come to executing the perfect combination and, by the end of the tournament, she “felt like she owned the court.” She has never tired of discussing it.

Simona Halep on her way to victory over Serena Williams in the 2019 Wimbledon final. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Wimbledon was one of two Grand Slams Halep’s calf injury forced her out of last year, meaning this tournament will mark her return to SW19 for the first time since her victory. As she moved through the disappointment of losing him and after her many thoughts of retirement, Halep said she took some time to assess how much motivation she had left.

“Little by little, I just tried to see if I still want it,” she says. “And I felt that I wanted it but it was very difficult. So now that I met Patrick [it] made it a little easier. And now I’m very motivated. And I have that desire to continue playing because I feel that I can and I feel that I still love it”.

In her first Wimbledon since her triumph, Halep had a tough first-round draw against Karolina Muchova. Muchova was ranked in the top 20 last year, but she struggles to stay healthy. At the French Open last month, Muchova defeated world number 3 Maria Sakkari in the second round. Now working alongside Mouratoglou in place of her former manager Darren Cahill will be a clear test for the new partnership.

Halep’s association with Mouratoglou came after her former coach, Darren Cahill, suggested that she spend time at his Mouratoglou Academy. Surrounded by enthusiastic young players desperate to get to where she was, she felt refreshed. When his time as coach of Serena Williams came to an end, Halep hired him.

The reception of his hiring has been mixed by his followers. Some question how shocking it really was to consider Williams to be such a singular talent.

His penchant for self-promotion, using his players’ platforms, is irritating. In their first Grand Slam together at the French Open, Halep suffered a panic attack during her second-round loss to Zheng Qinwen. Interestingly, Mouratoglou responded to the loss by posting a public apology on social media: “I hope much better for myself and I want to extend my apologies to his fans who have always been so supportive of me,” he wrote.

It’s clear that Halep likes Mouratoglou, frequently referencing their recent conversations throughout the interview. She deeply believes that, over time, they can work well together.

“Every day that I live, of course, I think. And he believes too. So he gave me the confidence that I can still be at the top. But this does not mean that it will happen. I just have to give myself the opportunity to do my best. And we’ll see, I’m relaxed either way, but I’m motivated to do it.”

So as Wimbledon kicks off and its 2019 champion returns, one of the lingering questions next week and beyond is whether Halep can recapture her former form to contend for Grand Slam titles again. but what is certain is that Halep will put his hopes and emotions on the line, then he will see where he falls. Whether he follows joy or disappointment, one thing he will never regret is the effort behind his actions.

“The pandemic came and everything changed,” he says. “So now I’m just trying to rebuild everything I had before and even stronger if possible. But I take it easy, I take it easy and I give myself time.”

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