Darren Cahill reflects on Simona Halep's fantastic season and how he's learned to help her harness her intensity.
WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen
August 15, 2018

CINCINNATI, Ohio - Darren Cahill has coached Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi to Grand Slam and No.1 glory, but the veteran coach and ESPN commentator said the greatest day of his professional career came in May when he watched his current charge, World No.1 Simona Halep, finally break through to win her first major title at Roland Garros. 

"Apart from the birth of my children, it was the greatest day ever for me, being with her on the ride that we had so many ups, so many downs, so many emotional losses," Cahill told reporters during WTA Coaches Media Day at the Western & Southern Open. "The French Open final last year was just gut-wrenching for everybody. Even here last year, she had the chance to be No. 1 last year and she put in a bad one against Garbiñe. We had a few of those last year.

"And to spend time with her after those moments and see what it meant to her and how it affected her, and then to finally win the Grand Slam, I have never been happier standing there watching a player do what she did."

"I know she's never going to be perfect on the court, and I don't want her to be, to be quite honest, because she's got this Romanian blood, which is fire in the belly, which is fun, exciting, emotional."
Darren Cahill

Halep and Cahill return to Cincinnati on a high. After a much-needed three-week break after Wimbledon, Halep stepped back on court to defeat four Top 20 players and defeat Sloane Stephens in another grueling three-set final to win her second Montreal title. In many ways, Halep's Montreal run was as impressive a title run as any of her previous 17, as the Romanian had to dig deep to rediscover the motivation that had been lacking after winning the French Open. 

"She's pretty honest," Cahill said. "I think with Simona you know what you're going to get from her, and she doesn't hide her feelings very well. 

"Most of us try to hide it and keep it in. Simona likes to talk about it and let it fly."

"I think that's the great thing about her, and it's also the struggle that she has, as well. That's why we ride this roller coaster a little bit in her career. That's why we love watching her play, as well, is you're always going to get something that's really interesting."

READ: How Halep became the first player to qualify for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore prsented by SC Global

"I know she's never going to be perfect on the court, and I don't want her to be, to be quite honest, because she's got this Romanian blood, which is fire in the belly, which is fun, exciting, emotional. You want that in your players, because it's part of the reason why she's so good.

"She's worked really hard over the last year and a half to find that balance. She's not perfect, but she's getting better all the time. 

"But more than anything, she understands herself a lot better now. She never used to do that. She would walk off the court and go, What's the problem? Then you'd sort of sit down and walk through the match.

"Now she's understanding what the problems are, when she gets a little bit emotional, how many points in a row she's losing because of that. She's starting to see the structure and the momentum changes and the swings much better than she used to. That's why now she's able to turn matches around, whereas once upon a time, they used to slip away pretty quickly."

"She's like a little Rafa on the practice court. We need to make her a little Rafa on the match court, as well."
Darren Cahill

As Halep and Cahill have worked to help her strike that balance of controlled intensity, Halep has turned to another World No.1 for her inspiration: Rafael Nadal. 

"Rafa has inspired her with what he's been able to do, with the way he trains, with his work ethic, the way he fights for every single match no matter what the score is. He can be down 6-Love, 5-Love, 40-Love," Cahill said. "You wouldn't even be able to tell with him.

"That, to me, is what she's modeled the last year and a half on. No one's going to be like Rafa. But you see a little bit of the old Simona compared to the new Simona, and she's more like that, because she's always had a great work ethic. 

"I have never had to push her on the practice court. She always gives 100%. She's like a little Rafa on the practice court. We need to make her a little Rafa on the match court, as well.

"It's nice that her two victories, the one she had in Paris and the one she had last week [in Montreal], both coincided -- we spoke about this after the match -- coincided with Nadal doing exactly the same. It's been pretty cool, actually."

Reflecting on Halep's 2018 season, which has seen her make two Slam finals, winning her first major title at Roland Garros, all while holding the World No.1 for all but four weeks this season, Cahill couldn't be happier with how his charge has handled everything.

"I think it's incredibly difficult to, more difficult to be the No. 1 player in the world, because you need to play incredible tennis over the course of 12 months," Cahill said. "To win a Grand Slam, sometimes you just need to get hot for a couple of weeks.

"Not easy to do either, but becoming the No. 1 player last year I think gave her the confidence and belief to know that she's capable of making it happen. And since then -- some players, when they become No. 1, they are a little bit intimidated by the responsibility, the fact that you're at the top of the tree and everybody is chasing you, the fact that every time you step onto the court you're a target.

"And that's not easy psychologically for a lot of players to handle. I think she's handled it beautifully. I think she's done an incredible job putting that aside and just making it about one opponent every single day. That's been really important for her."

"I think the beauty with her is that she's always treated both the wins and the losses the same way. She doesn't get overly carried away with the wins and she has great respect for the losses and her opponents."
Darren Cahill

"It's impossible to win every single week, but if you go out there with the attitude that you're going to find a way to give your very best -- the only thing you can control is your effort. You can't control how your opponent plays, can't control the wind or the line calls or whatever, but you can control how clearly you think and how much effort you give. And if you do that, then I'm proud of her no matter what the result.

"I think that's been a constant message throughout the course of our three years. If there is lessons to be learned from a particular match, yeah, we will definitely talk about them. Sometimes that's determined by how she feels after a match. Sometimes she's smiling after a match. Sometimes there are tears. Sometimes it's just a hug and move on. It's really determined by how she is.

"But I think the beauty with her is that she's always treated both the wins and the losses the same way. She doesn't get overly carried away with the wins and she has great respect for the losses and her opponents. I think that's one of the great things that I really admire about her, as well, just like the way Sloane [Stephens] has handled the last couple of matches. I think with the after-match speeches and the way she's handled those losses -- obviously the US Open was a big win, but big wins are just around the corner because good things happen to good people."

Listen to Simona Halep discuss her gritty run to the Montreal title and her impending return to Singapore on the latest episode of the WTA Insider Podcast below: