World No.2 Simona Halep captured her second successive title of the interrupted 2020 season and 21st WTA title of her career on Sunday, defeating No.3 seed Elise Mertens 6-2, 7-5 to win the Prague Open. The title run extended her winning streak to nine games after the 28-year-old secured her first title of the year in February at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships before the tour was shutdown due to COVID-19. The two-time major champion has now won 14 of her last 15 matches.
Halep joined WTA Insider via Zoom after her big win - and before her team plunge - to reflect on the challenges of her week in Prague and the confidence that came with knowing her top level was well in reach after six months away from competition.
WTA Insider: When we spoke before the tournament, you said you were unsure what to expect here in Prague in terms of your level on the court. You've been practicing well but how would that translate in tournament conditions and under new health protocols? Well you finish the week in dominating fashion to win your second consecutive title and 21st of your career. How does that feel?
Halep: Well, definitely, it means something big because after such a long break, a break that I never had, I didn't know what to expect and I didn't know how my level would be. But I'm really happy about how I played, how I've been mentally the whole week.
We don't have easy restrictions, even easy conditions, but we felt safe. Probably that's why I was able to compete at my highest desire and level of winning. So it was a great week and I'm happy to be back on court. I'm happy that tennis is back, and the course, many thanks to all the people who took care of us because it was not an easy week, but it was beautiful because I finished it with the title.
WTA Insider: There were no guarantees that you were going to be here on Championship Sunday. You had to go three sets to beat Polona Hercog in the first round and come back from a set and a break down to defeat Barbora Krejcikova in the second round, and you seemed to struggle with some shoulder issues. What was the key to getting over those obstacles?
Halep: Yeah, definitely it was a little bit of insecurity because not being able to play matches for such a long time, you kind of lose the confidence. You lose the feeling of an official match. I didn't have real easy matches at the beginning. They are very tough opponents and I expected very tough matches.
I was really happy I could go through those matches and to improve day-by-day because I did that and I felt safer and I felt more secure day-by-day. So today in the final I was happy that I had no injury, I was happy that I was healthy a hundred percent. And even if I got tired in the second set, I was stronger mentally again today and I was able to win the title.
It is never easy to win a final. So even if it's a smaller tournament, it means a lot. I had a great week here in Prague.
No.21 secured.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) August 16, 2020
Titles Won (Active Players):
73: Serena Williams
49: Venus Williams
41: Kim Clijsters
27: Petra Kvitova
21: Simona Halep https://t.co/KJ0SV9Iydi
WTA Insider: You said before the tournament that you weren't frustrated by the fact that the shutdown came right as you were having a fantastic start to the season. You had made the semifinals at the Australian Open, won the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. You said you couldn't be upset about it because you couldn't control it. Now you've won a title right on the restart. Does winning Prague give you a sense of relief that the level is still there?
Halep: Yeah, I told you, I'm not frustrated about that. I showed that I was not frustrated. I was just accepting the situation and I just took care of myself to be ready to start again when the time is right. So that's why I decided to come to Prague for the first time, because I felt ready completely to start again to compete. The fact that it's a smaller tournament, maybe it's not the same as the Australian Open or Dubai, but still, I had very tough opponents. Mertens is a great player.
So it gives me confidence and gives me the thumbs up because I worked hard in the break. The fact that I'm still motivated to win matches and tournaments gives me a boost to go ahead.
WTA Insider: You have not announced your plans regarding the US Open yet, but does your week in Prague have any impact on your decision on whether to play in New York or are they two independent things?
Halep: Yeah, nothing related here. So my decision is just about how I feel mentally. Let me enjoy today, please (laughs)!
WTA Insider: Being in Prague with Arti and having Darren on the phone, what were your discussions like with your coaches and how did they evolve over the week as you progressed through the tournament?
Halep: I'm not great with speeches, so I forgot to thank them on the court (laughs). So I will say now that I thank my team because they are every time next to me and even if I fight sometimes on the court, it's OK. It's nothing personal, just my personality, my craziness. But it was good to start with Arti and Darren talking by phone because it's not easy that he is so far away.
I had great advice this week, but I took it relaxed. So thanks to them that they got my mood. They got what I needed, actually, my feeling. And they were really nice, attached to me during this week. And we had great chats about the matches. So I felt relaxed and I felt like I had to deal with myself during this tournament, which I did.
Champions Corner: Simona Halep, Jennifer Brady win big on restarts https://t.co/20Zt2q6YBj— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) August 17, 2020
WTA Insider: Did you have any panic moments during the week?
Halep: Well, I just told them two days ago I think, that I didn't have any panic moments during the matches here, which makes me very happy because normally I lose some games when I get panicked on the court. So this week I was very relaxed in that way.
So no panic on the court, just a little bit of nerves, which is normal. I can not lose them and I cannot change myself completely. But if I win means that it helps a little bit.
WTA Insider: You had to stay under the tournament's health protocols for 10 days, spending your time in your room or on site. How different is it playing under the health and safety protocols and how much impact does it have on players mentally?
Halep: Yeah, definitely it's not easy to spend your time only in the room. And for the moment I don't want to imagine how it's going to be for three weeks in the room. Ten days was enough, so I can't wait to get home tomorrow (laughs).
But, yeah, it was a little bit stressful and exhausting because you could not see other people. You could not go into the city and take some fresh air. Thank God I had the balcony. So every morning I was staying there for a while. It's good that we had these restrictions because it's keeping us very safe. So I didn't complain much. But now I can complain. It was tough (laughs). I don't want that anymore (laughs).
WTA Insider: So what were you doing to kill all that time?
Halep: I didn't read this week, I didn't have the mood. Just my phone and my tablet. So I watched some movies. And I killed WhatsApp.