Simona Halep has secured the 2018 WTA year-end No. 1 ranking presented by Dubai Duty Free but her season could still end on a sour note as the Romanian admits her back injury could keep her out of next week’s big finale in Singapore.
Halep suffered a back problem during a practice session with Petra Kvitova in Wuhan last month and after losing her opener to Dominika Cibulkova there, and retiring while down a set to Ons Jabeur in Beijing, the world No. 1 found out that she is suffering from a herniated disk.
Following nearly two weeks of rehab, and going through 90 minutes of specific lower back exercises each day to strengthen the area around the injury, Halep is now in Moscow where she is the top seed at the Kremlin Cup, hoping to test out her back ahead of the WTA Finals in Singapore.
Halep initially entered Moscow as a way to be better prepared for the WTA Finals. She is the only player to qualify for all five editions of the season finale in Singapore but she only made it out of the group stages once, on her debut back in 2014.
She thought matches in Moscow would give her a better build-up for Singapore but now that she’s injured, her participation in both tournaments is in serious doubt.
“I still have problems with my back but I worked really hard the last two weeks, since Beijing, to make it stronger and to actually keep this problem because it’s really tough. I haven’t practiced 100 per cent yet, but today and tomorrow I will do close to 100 and I will be able to know better the next day,” Halep told a small group of journalists during a conference call from Moscow on Sunday.
“The doctor told me that there’s nothing about surgery but if I keep playing there’s a risk of long-term injury, so I don’t need that and I don’t want that, and I have to make a good decision in the next days.
“I hope first to be able to play here [in Moscow] because I really want to, because I’ve been here already for three, four days, getting ready for this tournament. I have great memories and I would really love to play here. But if I’m not able to play here then I’m very doubtful that I’ll be able to play Singapore because it’s very fast [too soon], so I don’t know now. But for sure I’ll take a decision for my health first.”
Halep says the physiotherapy and lower back exercises she’s been doing have helped but it still has been difficult for her on court. ,
“I worked really hard, I feel better but during play, during the game it’s tough because you cannot control every movement so it makes it more difficult.
“At this stage, if it stays like this, I don’t need surgery. I don’t know if it’s going to be worse if I keep playing this month, I don’t know that and they don’t know that. So I have to keep an eye on it and taking care of it.”
While other players on both the women’s and men’s tours – like Maria Sharapova, Andy Murray, Serena Williams and others – have pulled the plug early on their seasons to be better prepared for next year, Halep is reluctant to do the same and insists on giving herself every possible chance to compete in her last two events.
“It’s been very stressful and I was worried every day because I was waiting to see how I feel, every morning I wake up,” she concedes.
“So it’s pretty stressful but somehow it’s normal because injuries are pretty normal when you play at this level, at the highest level. So I try just to keep myself calm and be positive. I know it’s not an easy injury, the back is always difficult but I have to accept it and to look forward.”
Asked why she feels the need to keep trying, and potentially risking further injury, when she’s already had a fantastic season and has secured the year-end ranking, Halep said: “Because I never gave up until I felt that I touched the limit. I like to give myself another chance every day. I realise how bad it is everyday and I’m trying just to keep the limit there, to be able to know it, to feel it.
“I’m here because I really want to keep playing, I like these tournaments. I’m in the best position for sure, I’m the No. 1 for the rest of the year, I won a Grand Slam, I don’t have reasons to keep playing but it’s just my feeling that I don’t want to give up. But for sure, the priority is my health so I’m going to do the best decision for sure.”
Halep, who starts her 50th week as the world No. 1 on Monday, has been one of the most consistent players on tour for the past few seasons. It something that has particularly helped her this year as she managed to stay clear of the chasing pack behind her in the rankings. But that consistency has come at a cost and she admits she finds it hard sustaining a high level during the closing stages of the season.
“It’s really difficult and I feel it every year and I feel it more and more. I give everything I have the first part of the year and then Asia is a bit difficult for me to play and then Singapore, because it’s the last tournament. So my goal for the next years is to be better in this position, if I’m able to qualify once again for the Finals, I want just to be better and ready to play that tournament,” said the 27-year-old.
“I think mentally I just have no more energy and also sometimes I‘m injured at this time of the year. I don’t know why but I think everyone feels a little bit empty when we get to this point.”
Could a revised schedule possibly help her avoid running out of steam at the end of the year?
“Well, I played 15 tournaments this year so less than this is really impossible. I didn’t play many tournaments, but I played many matches and tough matches. Melbourne was incredible and I was struggling after that for a few weeks. So I would take this year, 100 per cent, it doesn’t matter if I’m tired at the end of the year,” she says.
* Simona Halep has secured the 2018 WTA year-end No. 1 ranking presented by Dubai Duty Free for a second consecutive season. She is also a Dubai Duty Free ambassador.
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