Former World No.1 and two-time major champion Simona Halep made her WTA Top 10 debut seven years ago today and she has not looked back since.
This week marks the 346th consecutive week that Halep was been ranked inside the Top 10, a mark that ranks as the 8th best streak in WTA history, only topped by Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Stefanie Graf, Gabriela Sabatini, Pam Shriver, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, and Hana Mandlikova.
Among the current Top 10, the next closest streak for consecutive weeks in the Top 10 belongs to Karolina Pliskova (209, since the week of September 12, 2016) and Elina Svitolina (173, since the week of May 22, 2017).
"This news is huge, it's an honor," Halep told WTA Insider this week from Adelaide, Australia, where the 29-year-old is preparing for the start of her 2021 season. "This will make me smile all day today, maybe all week."
Following a breakout 2013 season that saw the then 21-year-old win her first WTA title and finish the season with six titles - second only to Serena Williams' astounding 11-title haul - the Romanian made her Top 10 debut on January 27, 2014, following her first run to a Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open. In each of her last 7 seasons, Halep has reached the No.1 or No.2 ranking and posted a Top 5 finish. Her streak of 7 Top 5 finishes is the longest since Stefanie Graf 11 consecutive seasons from 1986-1996.
Since making her Top 10 debut, Halep has won 16 titles – tied with Petra Kvitova for the most won during that stretch – including 2 Slams (2018 Roland Garros and 2019 Wimbledon). She has also won 8 WTA 1000s, including Doha, Dubai, Indian Wells, Madrid, Rome, and Montreal.
"Consistency becomes different from player to player," Halep said. "You never know the mentality of the player.
"My goal was not just to win a tournament or a Slam. Of course, every player in the top wants to win a Grand Slam. I wanted that badly. I wanted to be No.1 badly. But it came as a package, not as the one focus. I think that's why I could be consistent over the years."
In all, Halep has reached 30 WTA singles finals in that stretch, the most of any WTA player ahead of Karolina Pliskova (29) and Serena Williams (23).
Since making her Top 10 debut, Halep owns a record of 293-97 (.751), a match win percentage topped by only Serena Williams (204-34, .857) and Bianca Andreescu (40-12, .769).
In addition, the WTA World No.1 ranking has changed hands 14 times, including 64 weeks when Halep held the top spot, and 26 other players have made their Top 10 debuts:
Sofia Kenin, Bianca Andreescu, Ashleigh Barty, Aryna Sabalenka, Daria Kasatkina, Kiki Bertens, Naomi Osaka, Sloane Stephens, Julia Goerges, CoCo Vandeweghe, Kristina Mladenovic, Caroline Garcia, Jelena Ostapenko, Elina Svitolina, Johanna Konta, Madison Keys, Roberta Vinci, Belinda Bencic, Timea Bacsinszky, Garbiñe Muguruza, Lucie Safarova, Carla Suárez Navarro, Ekaterina Makarova, Eugenie Bouchard, Dominika Cibulkova.
"My mentality as a player was all the time that I have to be permanently good enough to do results," Halep said. "I didn't focus myself on tournaments or Slams. I focused every week on the work, every year to offer myself to this sport. Everything I did since I was 14-years-old was for tennis and my focus was to see how good I could be.
"I'm looking for perfection, that's for sure. But at the same time, I know perfection doesn't exist. So I could accept my imperfection many times and try to get it closer to perfection.
"Maybe reaching all the time for perfection made me push my limits higher."
More from Halep, as she celebrates her stunning streak and looks ahead to her 2021 season:
WTA Insider: How is your quarantine going so far?
Halep: I'm good. Things are really good here in Adelaide. We have good conditions.
I can say it's a little bit tougher because when you play a tournament you can stay all day at the courts, so you are not obliged to spend all day in the room if you stay at the courts. So this is more difficult.
But we all knew the restrictions and that if someone tests positive on the plane the whole plane has to isolate and we have to move hotels, which I was scared of a little bit in the beginning. Because even if only one person is positive on the plane, we knew that here in South Australia they would move us to a hotel, the whole plane, not just the cohorts or section of the plane.
So I was a little bit stressed about that, I have to admit. But we were lucky, very lucky, that no one tested positive on the plane and we could spend the whole quarantine normally.
WTA Insider: How did your pre-season compare to your pre-seasons in the past?
Halep: I kept the same schedule as usual. I did a longer break after Paris in October, and then I wanted to start the preparation at the beginning of November, but I got Covid. I had to stay [home] a bit longer. I was not bad. I had mild symptoms, just at the beginning. So I was ok.
So I started mid-November. I had about eight weeks, which is longer than normal but I didn't feel like it's too long. I felt that it's ok.
What was weird was that I was home the first two weeks of January. For 15 years I haven't been home in January. I saw a bit of snow, I spent Christmas and New Year's Eve with family, and after that I went to Constanta for a few days to see my family. It was good. I can take the positive from it.
WTA Insider: So far the science tells us there can be long-term effects of Covid that could affect high-performing athletes. Have you had a chance to do any tests on that front?
Halep: I've been OK. I did all the scans for the lungs and the heart, because we had to have a heart echography to be able to return to play. I did everything and nothing's changed. All is good.
WTA Insider: Given your longer off-season and the two-week quarantine, do you feel refreshed as you prepare for the start of your season?
Halep: I can say that I'm refreshed. The break was good because I've had almost 10 years playing every week, every month. So this break was helpful for me, for my mind.
Of course, I cannot expect the maximum because this is the first time we experienced this. We didn't play that many tournaments last year and now we have a Grand Slam ahead. So I'm not sure how it's going to be, but my mood, my being, is refreshed. I'm ready to start the new year.
WTA Insider: Last year you started the season well with a semifinal run at the Australian Open and title in Dubai. Then the COVID shutdown came, but when you restarted you went on a 17-match winning streak. Does that given you confidence as you start the season after another long break?
Halep: Yeah, it gives me confidence that even if I didn't play for months I was able to come back and win so many matches in a row in tough tournaments. So I can say I got some confidence there.
But now it's a bit different. It's a new year, everybody is better prepared mentally also, so I think the challenge is bigger. But I'm confident.
WTA Insider: What are your goals for this season?
Halep: The ambition, I can say, is every tournament I play. I always said that every tournament is important to me and that I don't count some tournaments more important than the others. So when I go to a tournament I want to give 100 percent.
But now, you don't know what's going to happen the next week so you have to be focused 100 percent for what you have that week. I learned from last year that you have to live every day.
The main goal is a medal at the Olympics, to go there and be able to compete at the highest level, but every tournament is a goal for me this year.
WTA Insider: Does that create pressure? The idea that you need to play great every week because of the uncertainty of the next?
Halep: The pressure is because you have expectations every week and you say OK, I have to play this week 100 percent. This is the one thing you have to expect of yourself because at this level you expect to give your best on court every time.
But also, I'm almost 30. I've spent six to seven years at the top. I can handle that pressure and be in relaxation mode a little bit and say what comes is a bonus.
WTA Insider: Playing with that expectation and pressure, how have you learned over the years to relax and take your mind off tennis to stay fresh?
Halep: I think the experience over the years. The tough moments that I had taught me that every moment is important and even if something really bad happens, like losing an easy match or the final of a Grand Slam, if you shake your head and wake up the next morning to continue to work, there is a better chance to become better.
If you stay and complain about that match and about that moment that you had in that match, then you go a few steps backward. It's not good in my opinion to analyze the negative that much. You have to take it as it is, analyze what went wrong, and to do the next day a bit better. If you don't give up in the tough moments, your experience and confidence is growing.
I think all these things showed me that if I don't give up and I wake up the next morning and go to work again, it helps me to get better. That's what helped me to stay there.
WTA Insider: What are you looking forward to the most when your quarantine is over this week?
Halep: Ash [Barty] comes on Friday and we will play a match. I can't wait for that because it means I will be out of quarantine (laughs). I can't wait for that. For two weeks I've only seen my team.
I expect it to be a little bit weird for the next week because it will be busy and back to normal life. To have an official match after practicing only with one player for two weeks is going to be interesting for everybody.
But I also expect good times because here we are free to do everything. We can go to eat at restaurants, which we missed that during the tournaments. We missed it a lot. We can go shopping. My feet and my hands are burning already (laughs).
I expect a good run. You never know the results, but at least I know it will be a good time.