World No.2 Simona Halep was home in Romania recuperating from a bad foot injury when she got news that the WTA season was suspended due to the global impact of COVID-19. Halep had already announced her injury withdrawal from the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, but as the reality of the shutdown set in the former No.1 struggled to get her head around the consequences.
"It was a shock for me to see that everything was shut down," Halep told WTA Insider via phone from the Prague Open, where she is set to play her first tournament of the restart. "I'm used to traveling so much and suddenly I had to stay home every day and live the normal life. It was a shock. I didn't understand. I didn't want to accept it at first.
"Then to see so many struggling with their health, I was worried, I have to admit. I was worried at the beginning. Then I asked many people around me and they told me if I protect myself and I take care of me and the people around me, it's going to be ok. So I did that and I'm still doing that.
"So I feel positive and I don't feel as negative anymore. But I'm sure we are still struggling, the whole world is still struggling. The economy will be tough and many people will struggle. We have to be patient and believe that it's going to be better."
As the reality of the shutdown set in, the two-time major champion left her trusty Wilsons in the bag for two months. She spent time with her family, spending time with her beloved niece, welcoming her nephew into the world, and doing her best to stay positive. When she finally resumed her training she remained honest with herself. There were days when the idea of chasing a fuzzy yellow ball for a few hours felt preposterous and that was ok.
"Darren said if I can be focused, then train like I have a tournament next week it is a big plus. But if not, if one day I come to the court and I don't feel the pleasure that I have to work, then I might take the day off. So I was not stressed to play every day. I took some days off when I felt like it. But if not, then I pushed hard myself.
"So his advice was to take it day-by-day and not think if I miss one day it would be a disaster because I have time. I have to relax my mind because you never know what will happen next week. Every day it's changing, in Romania also. So the fact that we were open to train was a plus and I took it like that."
Halep echoed the common refrain from all players when discussing the five-month shutdown: it had been years since anyone had been home for this long of a stretch, if ever.
"My longest break was 3 or 4 weeks," Halep said. "Honestly, I don't really know how to manage now the comeback.
"The good thing is that everyone is in the same position. I was not injured and forced to stay away from tennis. Everyone is in the same position and now we will see who is going to manage the comeback better.
"I feel like I have experience to deal with it and if I take it relaxed and give my best every match, I'm pretty sure that soon I will touch the level again.
"But I'm also sure I will struggle a little bit because my style and my type of personality is to keep playing matches and always I needed matches to find the rhythm. Now it's different. So I cannot complain but I also cannot be happy. It's in the middle."
Halep says she wasted no time during the shutdown playing the "What if" game. After a dream 2019 season that saw her win Wimbledon, the 28-year-old looked poised for another standout season. Playing in just three tournaments, Halep made the quarterfinals of the Adelaide International, semifinals of the Australian Open, and won her 20th career title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
"I started very well the season but I don't have to forget that I was injured in Dubai," Halep said. "So anyway I had to stay a little bit away from tennis because my injury was really bad at that moment.
"I wasn't thinking too much of this. I was focusing on my health and on what was going on in the whole world. So tennis was a little bit on the second plane in that moment.
"I said until everything is sure then I'm not going to play. I feel sure and secure now to come to Prague and that's why I started. It's tough to get frustrated that I started well the year and maybe I could win some other tournaments. I did not think about that.
"I feel like every time you step on the court you have a chance there. So I'm looking for the positive and I'm looking forward that I can play here and hopefully the next tournament as well.
"And if I'm healthy that's all I can ask for."