BEIJING, China - Simona Halep is set to become the 25th woman and first Romanian to hold the WTA No.1 ranking. After falling one match short of the top spot three times this season, the 26-year-old finally made history on Saturday by avenging her French Open loss to Jelena Ostapenko in the semifinals of the China Open. The win assures Halep will rise to No.1 on both the WTA rankings and Porsche Race to Singapore on Monday.
Halep joined the WTA Insider Podcast after the win to discuss her bumpy road to No.1, which required humility, persistence, and a devoted team who never let Halep stop believing.
"It was the toughest year but also the best year," Halep said on the WTA Insider Podcast. "At the beginning, it was very tough. I was injured and I didn't believe I would even be in Singapore. So being there now and being No.1 today, it's great. I can say that I forget everything [else]. I just enjoy the moment and take the very happy moments that had this year."
Listen to the full interview below:
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WTA Insider: This was the fourth time you were playing a match for No.1. The last three times you couldn't do it, it seemed a bit soul-crushing. Talk through the attitude you had to have to get through the last few months?
Halep: I still say the toughest moment on court was the French Open final. It was the first opportunity to be No.1 and to win the first Grand Slam. I was devastated after that match. Then I just kept working. I said it's going to happen one day, I just have to get on court and work harder, which I did. Then I was in Wimbledon straight after. I was very close, two points from doing this. I lost it. In my opinion, I played great in the US season.
I just didn't stop believing. Also, my team was great. The people around me, Darren always told me that if you keep working you can do it. So today I did it after so many tough moments. Also the match at the US Open against Sharapova I think helped me, to get stronger and to see better what I want to do with my career. I saw that I want to work hard and to believe that day that I will become No.1 in the world.
WTA Insider: After the French Open final, just minutes after losing, you told your team that you all just had to keep working and the opportunities would come. Did you really believe that then?
Halep: For sure I believed it. I don't talk if I don't believe; I prefer to shut up. So if I say something I really feel it.
So yeah, I told the boys that we have to keep working. I felt too many times that I'm there. So that's why maybe I still had the power to go ahead and keep working. I had great people around me that told me every day that I can do it. So it's really important. The team is important, and the family.
WTA Insider: Your serve has been very good all week. You said that you watched the Sharapova match from the US Open and felt you had to improve your serve. Was it just a matter of watching the match and realizing you had to improve it?
Halep: After the match, I talked to Darren and he told me my serve was s**t and that's why I lost the match. So I said ok, if that's the only one thing I can improve to beat her, then I work for it.
So now I can say it: I've been on court one hour every day hitting serves. Darren said stop it because you're going to hurt yourself and I said I will not (laughs). I just wanted it a lot. I wanted it with everything. Also, I was motivated because everyone told me I will be there. So maybe that's why I had the power to work.
WTA Insider: In your press conference you said someone specifically helped you believe after the French Open. Can you elaborate?
Halep: I don't want to say the name, but she knows who she is. It was my psychologist. Also, I worked at home with a Romanian man, which helped me after that period. I really want to thank them because they showed me what I need to improve and what I have to change to be better on court, which I did it and credit to them.
WTA Insider: Has the 2017 season been more about your mental strength or the improvements to your game?
Halep: First place is the mental strength. The game I always had. I was there close many times, 2014 in Singapore. But the mental part I was not very close. This year for sure is the best way that I've been on court. The attitude now I'm happy about it. I'm not ashamed anymore.
WTA Insider: You were ashamed before?
Halep: Yeah, for sure. After Miami, after a few other matches in the past. Because I could not control my nerves, I could not control myself. I was talking too bad to myself. I don't deserve that because I'm working hard and I just have to appreciate myself more.
WTA Insider: What does it mean to you to be the first Romanian WTA No.1?
Halep: Yeah, this is great. I know Virginia won a Grand Slam, but I'm the first one and the only one until now who is No.1 in the world. Ilie sent me a message that he was proud of me. So we both made history in Romania, which is great, and for sure for me, it means a lot.
WTA Insider: Do you have any sense of what the reaction is back home?
Halep: I don't know. I don't want to think, actually, because tomorrow I have another match which is going to be very difficult to play. But after tomorrow I will go home and for sure I will celebrate with everyone.
WTA Insider: Looking back, what is the biggest lesson you take from this season?
Halep: The biggest lesson I had in my career was the split with Darren after Miami. It was a shock for me. On that day I said well, I did something wrong and I have to accept it and to work to change something to bring him back to my team because he helped me a lot and he's still helping me. That was the best lesson, not just for tennis but also in life.
WTA Insider: Have you talked to him yet?
Halep: Of course. After the match, I called him after the shower actually because I needed to let everything go out, all the emotions.
He is very happy. I'm his third No.1 player but the only one girl. He said he had the youngest No.1 (Lleyton Hewitt), the oldest No.1 (Andre Agassi), and I said "The middle No.1." He was very happy and he was with his family there and celebrating. I'm sad he's not here but it's ok. we're going to celebrate in Singapore.