Simona Halep says she's ready to fly solo to start her 2019 campaign. In an interview with WTA Insider ahead of her first tournament of the season at the Sydney International, the World No.1 confirmed she will play through the first three months of the season without a coach.
"The situation is that for the next three to four months, I don't want to take the coach," Halep told WTA Insider. "I'm not thinking about that. I just go with the flow and I'll see how it works, kind of, alone."
After a career-best season that saw her finally win her first major at Roland Garros and finish the season at No.1 for the second consecutive year, Halep and her coach Darren Cahill parted ways in the off-season for family reasons. They remain great friends and Halep says the two are still in constant contact, with the veteran Aussie coach offering advice when he can.
"He took the decision because of the family and the family comes first always," Halep said. "I was not disappointed or upset, I fully understood. We have a very good relationship."
"We talk most of the days. I asked for advice and he gave it to me. We talked during the off-season as well. It's not the same of course, because he's not my coach anymore. But we are great friends and that is the most important.
"The last four years were with Darren and they were the best four years. I can say it's tough without him. I have helping me the [Romanian] Fed Cup captain, but he's not my coach. He just came to be around.
"Actually, it's tough a little bit, but I feel confident that I can do my own things on court. I'm more responsible now on everything that I have to do. Maybe it's a good thing, I will see."
Halep's decision to fly solo is all part of an effort to decompress from a pressure-packed five-year run, one that saw her burst into the Top 10 in 2014 to become the most consistent Top 10 force in recent years. No player has a longer active streak in the Top 10 and she became the first player since Serena to finish No.1 in back-to-back seasons. Last season, only Halep and Serena made two major finals. It was an effort that left her physically broken and emotionally exhausted.
"I just want to chill," Halep said. "I had enough pressure, I had enough tension during these years. Now I feel like I don't want to commit to anyone because when you take a coach you have to commit to that person and you want to do the best for him and the team.
"So I need to be chilled for a few months, a few weeks, because last year was a tough year, emotional stuff. So I feel better if I stay like this. It's my decision and I don't know if it's the best, but I took the risk to do that."
"My life is not tennis only now. I try to enjoy more. I try to be happy. I was always, but now I feel more relaxed and enjoy other things as well."
After a herniated disk in her back prematurely ended her 2018 season, the more pressing concern for Halep is how her back will hold up under competition conditions. The Australian Open finalist pushed back her season start date by a week to start in Sydney instead of Shenzhen. The good news is that practices have gone well so far.
"The back was good for the off-season," Halep said. "I didn't have pain and I trained 100%, I played some sets, some matches. So no pain, no stress, but you never know until the official matches, so I'm waiting for this week to see how I feel."
Halep's back injury prevented her from doing much of anything other than physical rehabilitation during the off-season, but the break certainly had a silver lining.
"Six weeks I did nothing, just in the gym to do back exercises every day for one hour," Halep said. "No tennis for six weeks. It was a very long time.
"But it was good, trust me," Halep said, laughing. "I enjoyed too much. I went out, I met people, I had a great time with friends. I had a few parties.
"The period was excellent and I feel like I lived 100% now. Before I hadn't. Now I discovered the real life."
Halep is the top seed in Sydney and has a bye into the second round, where she could either face Jelena Ostapenko in a rematch of the 2017 French Open final, or local favorite and last year's runner-up Ashleigh Barty.
"I feel good, I feel rested, I feel healthy. I feel relaxed," Halep said. "I have no pressure, but I'm still motivated to see how good I can be this year. It's going to be a tough start because I have almost three months without official matches and without a coach.
"So let's see this week, next week, and then I can say more. But for now I feel good and happy."
As she looks ahead to her 2019 campaign, Halep says her priorities are health and happiness.
"The most I'm looking forward to is my health," Halep said. "I want to be 100% healthy with my back. So I will look after it a lot during this period.
"I also want to improve my attitude. I know I talked a lot about it last year but I still want to improve. The tennis will take care of itself I think, if I train normal, if I train hard, I think I will be ok."
"I played some sets and I won the sets. But always the official matches are different. So I don't want to say I feel great now before seeing how I am actually on court. So next week I will talk more because I will know more."