WTA Insider catches up with World No.1 Simona Halep from the Shenzhen Open after the best pre-season of her career.
WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen
January 4, 2018

The last thing Simona Halep needed to see after her No.1 season was a tennis racquet. The World No.1 completed her season-long quest to become the first Romanian to hold the WTA No.1 ranking with a late-season surge in October, which ultimately pushed her ahead of Garbiñe Muguruza to finish 2017 as the 13th WTA Year-End No.1. 

Halep's journey to No.1 was a dramatic one. After a knee injury derailed the start of her season, the 26-year-old dominated the clay season to make her second Roland Garros final and held her consistency through the grass and hard court season to beat out Muguruza by just 40 points at the end of the season. There was the Miami Open meltdown, which led to her much-publicized temporary split with coach Darren Cahill, and a subsequent reunion that bore immediately fruit. 

So when her season finally ended after the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, the racquets stayed in the bag, both literally and figuratively, for longer than one might expect from a World No.1.

"I was off for four weeks," Halep told WTA Insider by phone from the Shenzhen Open. "I went out almost every day with my friends. I didn't think about tennis. I did nothing. I didn't think about the No.1 ranking. 

"It was a little bit more in Romania. Now, since I'm No.1, there are many people around. I went to the restaurant and the owners are paying the bills. Everything's changed, to be honest."

"Darren went with me to dinner - he stayed like 12 days in Romania - and we never paid. He said I was a cheap date. It was funny." 

When Halep restarted her pre-season, she was refreshed and ready to go. She says her long off-season break resulted in the best pre-season she's ever had. The pay-off was immediate. Playing an exhibition event in Hua Hin, Thailand before heading to China, Halep earned wins over Karolina Pliskova and Johanna Konta.

"I feel recovered, I feel refreshed," Halep said. "It was a very tough year and those four weeks were very important for me. That's why me and Darren decided to take as long as I need. 

"I feel the best and ready. I feel like I can go for every shot and every ball and stay in the match, in the rallies, and also under pressure. My match against Duan Ying-Ying was a good test and I think I played really well after the first set."

Halep's three-set win over Duan secured her the No.1 ranking on Monday as well as the top seed at the Australian Open, which begins on January 15th. Halep will play Shenzhen and then head to Melbourne to finish up her preparations for the only Slam at which she has yet to make the semifinals. Her best results came in 2014 and 2015, where she made back-to-back quarterfinals. Last year she played with a knee injury and lost in the opening round to Shelby Rogers. She proceeded to skip the Middle East swing to heal up, but was back to her best by April. 

The No.1 ranking will once again be in play at the Australian Open, but Halep says the ranking, which occupied her mind through much of the 2017 season, is the last thing on her mind now. 

"Honestly, this No.1 is gone from my head," Halep said. "I touched it, I saw how it is, and it doesn't matter anymore. I just want to win matches."

"We said that this year we have no goals. I have the goal of just being better on court. To try to win every match I play. No more rankings, no more other stuff. Just enjoying. 

"In my opinion, I did a great job last year. It was a tough year, very emotional. I need to recharge the batteries, I need to feel every match, to feel every tournament, not think anymore about the results, because I did last year and it was pretty hard."

And so begins Simona Halep's continued quest to be kinder to herself and, as it turns out, her equipment as well. Her New Year's Resolution for 2018? No more racquet smashes.

"It's an important goal!" Halep said, laughing. "I had four matches - two singles and two doubles - and I didn't touch it. And also at the exhibition [in Hua Hin, Thailand], so six matches!"

Asked, on a scale of 1 to 10 how she feels at the start of the season, Halep did not hesitate. "I'm full," she said. "I'm full with my mind and I'm relaxed. I don't know how it's going to be this year, but I'm relaxed."