DOHA, Qatar - Former World No.1 Simona Halep made a major step towards achieving one of her 2019 goals over the weekend, and was admittedly basking in the glory of having led Romania to a colossal Fed Cup upset over the Czech Republic.
“I still feel the emotions, and it's been great,” the reigning Roland Garros champion said during her Qatar Total Open pre-tournament press conference. “And it's for first time going to the semifinals, so it means a lot.
“It’s different,” she later told me. “I cannot say it’s bigger, because I work and live for Grand Slams. In this sport, it’s the most important thing. However, I will put Fed Cup on the same stair, and keep that goal of winning as important as a Grand Slam.”
Romania last played the Czechs - Fed Cup champions for five of the last seven years - two years ago, narrowly losing in what was their first World Group appearance since 1992.
Deadlocked after Day 1, Halep avenged a three-set 2016 defeat to Karolina Pliskova and was an enthusiastic spectator as Irina-Camelia Begu and Monica Niculescu stunned top-ranked doubles team Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova to clinch the tie.
“The girls and the captain showed me,” she said of a video capturing her sideline celebration. “It was really funny. After that, I thought about how I reacted, which wasn’t the easiest, but I did everything naturally, and I’m happy that the girls could win that match. It was a tough one.”
Halep rides a seven-match Fed Cup winning streak into Romania’s semifinal with France, and is unlikely to turn down the call to play for a first final.
“I’m not playing for myself; I play for my team. I give everything I have because I feel the energy coming from my team. It makes me stronger on court, and the desire is even bigger.
“We are a small country, and we don’t have a big system in tennis, so making this result is going to help the new generation. It’s going to help kids get inspired to make something in their life and that their dreams can come true one day.”
Less than a day after making one of her own dreams come true, the top seed arrived in Doha five years removed from a run that saw her score a trio of Top 10 wins to earn the first big title of her career.
“It was a long time ago, but I like the court here, and even last year, I made the semis. I have great memories of everything: the atmosphere, the people, and the weather. I feel a positive energy every time I come here.
“I’m looking forward to hit a little bit today, to feel the court and the air. Everything makes me feel light, happy, and ready to fight for my matches.”
Shifting from indoors in Ostrava to outdoors in Doha, Halep is also in the midst of a coaching change, arriving with Thierry Van Cleemput, who formerly worked with ATP star David Goffin.
“I always admired Goffin because I liked his game and also the fact that he moves into the court a lot,” later adding, “We’ve only practiced for a week, so you cannot change something so quickly.
“He’s a good person, and I’m looking forward to this collaboration to see how it’s going to be.”
The quick turnaround hasn’t afforded Halep many opportunities to indulge her infamous sweet tooth, but nonetheless managed to grab a small reward after her Fed Cup heroics.
“I haven’t had a chance to eat but this morning I had Nutella with bread because I lost two kilos over the weekend, but I need to put them back!”