World No.2. Simona Halep joins the WTA Insider Podcast after her triumphant week at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, where she extended her winning streak to 14 matches to capture her first Rome title, third title of 2020, and 22nd title of her career. Halep explains why the Rome trophy sat prominently on her bucket list, reminisces about her breakout 2013 season which kicked off in earnest in the Eternal City, and why she's emerged from her six-month lockdown a more mature and relaxed player.
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WTA Insider: What does winning Rome mean to you?
Halep: This title means a lot because I dreamed for it, I have to admit, since 2013. I played good tennis here. But the two times in a row lost in the final, and about the second one I can say that I was very disappointed that they lost it because I didn't play my game. But now I'm really happy that I could take it home. I played good tennis the whole week. Of course, the final was not how we wanted to be with Karolina's retirement. But, you know, I started well and I get the confidence from this set as well and I just enjoy it. It's really nice to win here in Roma.
WTA Insider: You've mentioned your 2013 tournament here a number of times and I went back to pull up that season. You were ranked No.64 and played Rome as a qualifier, successfully qualified, and then defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Roberta Vinci, Jelena Jankovic, before facing Serena Williams in the semifinals. It was your biggest run at any tournament and this was before you captured your first WTA title. You went on to win six titles that season in Nuremberg, s'Hertogenbosch, Budapest, New Haven, Moscow, and Sofia and finished No.11. A few weeks into the 2014 season, you made your Top 10 debut. That's an incredible rise and it really did seem to start here in Rome.
Halep: Exactly. I remember those times like they were yesterday, and I feel the emotions that I had back then. Every match was a crazy match with such a good player every day I had to face. Emotions were big. I didn't know actually how to handle it because it was the biggest tournament that I was playing at that time. Being in qualifiers and winning them and going on the main draw, it was already wow for me. And then playing every day better and better and finding the rhythm, finding the way to win matches against top players gave me a lot of confidence.
I will never forget this tournament because here I started everything. And after this, yeah, it's crazy how it has been winning six titles in that year and finishing at No.11.
It was an amazing year. I have to admit that maybe it is my favorite one because at that time I had the feeling of the biggest level in tennis and since then I didn't drop. So I'm really thankful for these seven years and finally, after seven years, I got this title. So I worked enough, I think. I feel like I deserve it (laughs).
WTA Insider: Your career has certainly shown that good things come to those who wait.
Halep: Like the three Grand Slam finals before [I won], four times I lost before the No.1 ranking, yeah. Finally I got them. So I am patient.
Halep: "In 2013 here I started to come to the top of world tennis. I really enjoyed and I was really happy on court that I could do the semifinals then. Since then I started to play really well and finally after two finals I could win this title.” #ibi20 pic.twitter.com/SpWDvoVQ3V— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) September 21, 2020
WTA Insider: Going through your historical ranking statistics, since making your Top 10 debut in January 2014, you have touched the No.1 or No.2 ranking in each of the last seven years. Did you know that?
Halep. Whoa. That's crazy. I have to keep it in my mind, every time I have a tough moment. Actually to tell my team, maybe I deserve something for that (laughs).
It's pretty amazing that I've done this. And also since 2013, I think I didn't drop out of the Top 10. So, yeah, it's amazing. I feel happy about that.
WTA Insider: You're on a 14-match win-streak and have won the last three tournaments you've played. The focus now turns to Roland Garros, where you're going to be a favorite for the title. How will you manage the next week and, since you skipped the US Open, playing your first Slam since the season restarted?
Halep: I don't know what to expect because, as you said, I didn't play a Grand Slam in a bubble, but I'm pretty sure that it is going to be similar to what we had here in the previous tournaments.
The pressure, I'm used to it. I've been No.1 and playing a Grand Slam, so it's more [pressure] than now. So I'm not going to think about that. If people think that I am a favorite, well, I'm not thinking about that because every match it's a battle and everyone wants to get it so badly. So I'm just focusing on my game like I did here, like I did in Prague. I'm not stressing myself about the results.
We have to be very thankful that we have the chance to play again with these tough conditions and to thank the people, that they are very patient with us because we are grumpy sometimes (laughs). But they make it easier. They make it safer.
So I have just to be calm, to enjoy it, and to give my best every time I step on the court. That's my main goal.
WTA Insider: You've been very relaxed in Prague and Rome. Why do you think you have come out of the shutdown so calm?
Halep: I'm more mature, I think. The pandemic got me in a place that I really dreamed to be (laughs).
I am more mature. I am more relaxed because I could see that the most difficult things are in life in general, not in sport. So being able to do this as good as I do in the last seven years, it's a big thing.
So I have just to be proud of it, to be thankful for it, that I'm able to do these great things and to give my best because I'm here because I wish to be here. Nobody forces me. Nobody pushes me to come here. I just come because I love tennis and I love to face these emotions. Actually, in pandemic time I missed these emotions and now I don't fight with them anymore. I just want them again. So now I face them much better than before.
Since 2013, when Simona Halep won her 1st of 22 titles, only Serena Williams (27) has won more titles than the Romanian.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) September 21, 2020
Halep is the first 🇷🇴 woman to win @InteBNLdItalia. #ibi20 pic.twitter.com/B1r6OchKBu
WTA Insider: What would the mature Simona tell the 2013 Simona, the one who was still living and dying with every point and every result, who got mad if things didn't go her way, who wanted the succsss so badly?
Halep: Well, back then I was fighting with everyone, with myself, with the opponent, with the ball, with the racquet, with the weather, with the crowd, with the team, so I have many, many on the list (laughs).
Now I tell myself that I am much better in that direction and I have only one against who I have to fight. I have to fight with the opponent because I face an opponent. And the opponent is really good because at this level everyone is playing great. So I don't have to be that upset because she's working like I do. But if I am calm and if I am positive, I have a better chance to win those matches that before I was losing them. I did some great matches here as well, which before I would have lost them.
I'm proud of my evolution and my improvement on the mental part.
WTA Insider: Rome is your 22nd career title. You mentioned you would be celebrating it in the most boring way, just in your hotel room with the trophy with a sip of champagne. So what's the craziest title celebration you've had?
Halep: Oh, that's tough. I have to admit that I didn't have a crazy celebration for any of them because I'm not that type to celebrate like crazy because I won a title.
But inside myself, I think French Open was the most special one. I've been also with my family, with my parents actually, some friends coming from Romania, Darren was there. So I felt complete inside. So that's the most beautiful celebration that I ever had.
WTA Insider: So no popping champagne bottles at the top of the Eiffel Tower?
Halep: I'm pretty stable, so I don't do those things (laughs).
Maybe after tennis. Who knows?