DOHA, QATAR - World No.2 Simona Halep had a lot to smile about when she sat down to address the press ahead of the Qatar Total Open on Tuesday. Not only does she have a new clothing sponsor in Nike and is coming off a successful week cheering on the Romanian Fed Cup team as they booked a spot in the April's semifinals, she also has an opportunity to recapture the No.1 ranking this week in Doha.
But first, Halep says her health is the priority. After a grueling Australian Open campaign that saw her play through an ankle injury and foot injury to make the final, Halep began practicing again last week and hopes her body is ready for match play. With the No.1 ranking on the line this week in Doha, Halep must make at least the quarterfinals for a chance to overtake Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki.
"The foot is okay now, but I have just to play an official match to see if it stays like that," Halep told reporters at All Access Hour in Doha, where she was a champion in 2014. "I really hope that nothing will come back and I will be able to play."
"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 practiced a few days. I practiced 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."
After her inspired run in Melbourne, which saw her save a total of five match points in two separate matches to make her third career major final, Halep says she was overwhelmed by the positive reaction from her peers and fans afterward.
"It was really nice to see that the people appreciated the way I fought and the way I played," Halep said. "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."
After starting the season without a clothing sponsor - her Adidas contract ended at the end of 2017 - Halep is excited and, admittedly, a little nervous about making her tournament debut as part of the Nike family. The 26-year-old confirmed the deal over the Fed Cup weekend and says it's a childhood dream to sign with the company.
"I'm really happy that I have this deal," she said. "I can say it was a dream since I was a kid, because it's really good company and big company. So I'm looking forward actually tomorrow to play with the outfit the first match. I'm sure I will be nervous, but it's a good feeling, and I'm happy to be in their family."
Halep opens her Doha campaign on Wednesday against Russia's Ekaterina Makarova. Halep has won her last two complete matches against Makarova but retired in her most recent match at the Citi Open last summer.
"Everyone from Top 10 is able to win any tournament and any match," Halep said. "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."