Simona Halep is hoping her tough journey to a first Grand Slam title, that culminated with her lifting a historic Roland Garros trophy on Saturday can inspire the younger generation in Romania.
After becoming Romania’s first-ever female world No. 1 end of last season, Halep became just the second woman from her country – behind 1978 Roland Garros champion Virginia Ruzici – to win a Grand Slam title.
After falling short in three major finals, Halep finally got her victory on her beloved Parisian clay with a three-set win over 10th-seeded Sloane Stephens.
“To play in 12 months three Grand Slam finals, for me means a lot,” said the 26-year-old Halep.
“And the fact that I didn’t give up after the one last year here [in which she lost in three sets to Jelena Ostapenko] means that I’m strong inside and I do this just because I love this sport. I love to be competitive on court.
“And I have learned in those 12 months that if you don’t give up you’re able to do anything. So I hope the kids are taking this and the Romanians will believe more in themselves.”
Halep was already a superstar in Romania, but her status will no doubt soar after her latest achievement.
Ruzici, who used to be Halep’s manager and continues to be close to her, was elated after her protégé’s triumph on Saturday.
“In Romania, the achievement is enormous. We haven’t had such a champion in so many years – in tennis, anyway, since Ilie Nastase. And in other sports, since the gymnasts. Nadia Comaneci and the other gymnasts who have had Olympic medals,” said Ruzici.
While she admits she was “really worried” when Halep trailed Stephens by a set and a break in the final, Ruzici assures, “We believed, because we know she’s such a fighter, and she turns things around”.
It’s been four years since Halep reached her first Slam final, losing in three sets to Maria Sharapova in Paris. It took her another three years to get a second opportunity, but it ended in heartbreak against an unseeded Ostapenko.
At the Australian Open last January, a depleted Halep fell to Caroline Wozniacki in a gruelling three-set final.
Halep could have been forgiven if she had decided to give up on her Grand Slam dream throughout this painful process. But she insists she always kept the belief.
“I said that if I was in that position three times, I was close to win, it’s going to happen, I just have to keep working hard and not giving up,” she said.
Words can’t describe how happy the last 24 hours have been for me. I’ve read so many messages & social media posts that’ve brought tears to my eyes that I can’t thank you enough. Sorry for a few bumps along the way 🤷♀️🙄 but we finally got there!☺️💪 Lots of love, Simo ❤️ pic.twitter.com/Rzvs6fzN1Y
— Simona Halep (@Simona_Halep) June 10, 2018
Many top players choose to focus too much on the Slams, to make sure they peak there at the right time, and in doing that, their results at regular tour events can suffer.
Despite her mostly consistent performances at the majors – she has made the quarter-finals or better at 11 of her last 18 Slams and seven of her last 11 – Halep has also been incredibly reliable throughout the year; which is why she is ranked No. 1 in the world.
“I was looking and I was trying to learn something from other players who are really focused on the Grand Slams. I couldn’t do that in the past. For me every tournament is important and I feel that if I don’t treat every tournament with 100 per cent focus I will not be ready for the Grand Slams,” explains Halep.
“It’s my way of thinking, my way to play this sport and I think it helped me to get the experience from all the tournaments to see that I’m able to win the mandatory tournaments and for sure if I’m able to beat these players, who are the same in the Grand Slams, I will one day win a Grand Slam.”
Halep, who confessed on Saturday that she feels drained, will take two weeks off before she shifts her focus to the grass season.
There was a look of relief on her face when she was on court the moment she won the match, but she doesn’t feel like a weight has been lifted off her shoulder.
“I feel the same,” she said when asked if she felt lighter. “I feel emotional, I feel tired, I feel like I don’t have energy anymore, but it’s a good tired. So I will take it, I will embrace it and I will enjoy it.”
While she laughed when someone brought up Wimbledon so soon after her victory, Halep is hoping to keep her momentum going at her next events in Eastbourne and the All England Club.
“My holiday looks boring, just chilling, sleeping and eating,” she says.
“Now I don’t know how it’s going to be. But for sure I will be ready in my head to take another step in my career. Maybe I’ll change a little bit the vision of the pressure and all the things. I don’t know how it’s going to be but for the moment I’ll be off for a few days and I’ll try to get ready, recover and go to play on grass.”
Her coach Darren Cahill isn’t worried about getting Halep back on the court for the grass.
“It’s okay, we’re ready. She loves the game, no question that we’ll give her time off, go back enjoy herself in Bucharest. Good couple of weeks, and then the plan is to play Eastbourne to get a couple of matches, maybe more, go all the way there and get her game ready for Wimbledon and I would say she’ll be full of confidence going into the grass and she’ll give it her best shot,” said the Aussie.
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