From Serena Williams' social media skills to Sofia Kenin's big coaching decision, WTA Insider takes you inside the press room at the 2021 Internazionali BNL d'Italia, where the top seeds met with the press ahead of the last WTA 1000 before Roland Garros.
The reigning Rome champion was asked for her thoughts on Aryna Sabalenka's impressive title run last week at the Mutua Madrid Open. Halep leads their head-to-head 3-2 but got a front-row look at Sabalenka's improved level in the Stuttgart semifinals, where Sabalenka dominated 6-3, 6-2.
"No, is not surprising," Halep said. "She's playing great. Very powerful tennis. She has confidence. She can actually do a lot in Grand Slams also, so she's getting closer to that. She played final in Stuttgart, so it's not the first result on clay. So congrats to her. She's playing really well.
"I think she's very high with the confidence. I was not surprised, and I'm expecting actually more from her."
Halep was also asked about the growing sense of camaraderie on the tour. Her take on it was simple: After a global pandemic, no one takes human interaction for granted anymore.
"I think it's natural now because of the pandemic, and the pandemic changed many things in our lives, in my opinion," Halep said. "We are more relaxed. We really notice that other things are more important than a tennis match or victory. I think we like to share more with the others and just going closer a little bit more because we couldn't get closer with this virus."
Halep is still looking to make her first final since winning Rome last fall. She says she's happy with her overall level on court, but needs matches to refine her competitive instincts.
"I think the game looked okay," Halep said, when asked for her assessment of her three-set loss to Elise Mertens in the Madrid Round of 16. "I don't really have regrets about that. But I can say attitude a little bit I need to calm down a little bit, not rushing that much and to stop missing in the important moments. But those things I think are coming with more matches, so I'm just looking forward to have as many as possible until French Open.
"This tournament is going to be important and take the pressure away, because it's a nice time now. We are back at the tournaments and it's kind of normal. Soon it's gonna be normal. I have just to enjoy and to relax. I need that."
After an intense training block at coach Patrick Mouratoglou's academy in Nice, as well as a reunion with fitness trainer Mackie Shillstone, Serena Williams is set to return to competition this week. The No.8 seed will face either Laura Siegemund or Nadia Podoroska in her first match since the Australian Open.
And just because Serena has been away from competition doesn't mean she hasn't been training. The American was asked about why, in the age of social media when everyone documents their every move, she is reticent to post images from her hard work on the practice court.
"I really try not to get involved in too much of what people say about me, because I feel like it can make you nuts," Serena said. "Whether it's good or bad, I don't really try to think too much of myself in that way at all.
"I think that's one thing I'm really good at is just to not really even engage so much, but I do feel like, because I don't do a lot of sport content, I do feel like people are wondering if I'm playing.
"I have to say: I always am, you just don't see it. I don't show what I do. I don't always show my cards."
The World No.2 continues to grind and refine her game on clay, but she is still working on accepting the imperfect nature of the clay-court game.
"I feel like there are things that I have improved, but the comfortability, I'm not sure if I should be telling you this, but I'm just not that comfortable on it still," Osaka said. "I'm not sure if it's because I need to play longer on it or if I just haven't grown up on it.
"But I think as soon as I get that sort of block out of my mind, then I'll be more open to the mistakes. I'll be more open to the bad bounces and stuff like that. So as of right now, I'm taking everything as a learning process, and I'm trying not to be so hard on myself."
Osaka comes into Rome off a hotly contested three-set loss to Karolina Muchova in Madrid. That match is one that Osaka has spoken positively about. While the result didn't break her way, she was happy with her attitude and competitive fight on the court.
One topic of discussion with coach Wim Fissette has been just how much Osaka should (or shouldn't) adapt her game to the surface. Sabalenka spoke openly in Madrid about the importance of playing her aggressive game style with minimal changes on clay. Osaka said she related to that approach.
"I would say we definitely talked about it and we're kind of talking about it every day, but for me, I feel like we both established that I'm not going to magically turn into a defensive player and I'm not magically going to start hitting my balls like three feet above the net," Osaka said.
"So of course I'm an aggressive player, and that's what I do. That's what helps me win. So definitely wouldn't drastically change my game at all, no."
Sofia Kenin spoke to reporters about her decision to part with her father, Alex, as her coach. The top-ranked American announced the decision on social media last week and said she will take her time building out her new team.
"I had great success with my dad, and I felt like now was the time for me to do what I wanted to do myself in terms of my tennis, my career," Kenin said. "That's why I decided that I had to part ways with my dad, but it's not like in the future we're not going to get back. We don't know what's going to happen. We'll see.
"I think for now I just need some time for myself, figure things out, grow as a person and then we'll just see what's gonna happen down the road."
"It's going to take time for me to figure out what I want, how I want things to be. It's just a matter of waiting, the process, and finally just enjoying myself back on court again."
Now ranked No.5 after Sabalenka's surge to No.4 after Madrid, Kenin hopes to find her rhythm in Rome, where she will face either Barbora Krejcikova or Zheng Saisai in the second round. Kenin has not won back-to-back complete matches since making the Roland Garros final last fall. The 22-year-old could face a rematch of the Paris final in the third round, where she could face Iga Swiatek.
"I'm not going to put pressure on myself," Kenin said, when asked about her upcoming return to Paris. "There's not going to be any tears or anything. It's going to be a very calm, very laid-back tournament hopefully. I'm obviously going to be feisty on the court and try to do my best."