Here is the wild arc Simona Halep has traversed physically and emotionally in just two months’ time:

Last November: Sitting in the changeover chair in Linz, Austria, eyes averted, an orange towel wrapped around her hunched shoulders, another in her lap. This is what abject misery looks like, when you’ve won the quarterfinal match against Jasmine Paolini, but you already know the pain and swelling in your left knee means the end of the 2021 season.

Halep issued a walkover to Jaqueline Cristian in the next round.

For Halep, it was the 16th year of a thoroughly professional career. And by many standards, her worst. Certainly, the most frustrating.

“Well … 2021 you have been hmmm tough to describe,” she wrote in a blog on her website in mid-November. “To be honest, it has been an incredibly challenging year.”

Halep comes from a set and a break down to survive surging Paolini: Linz Highlights

2021 Linz

It began with the death of her aunt, which left her “emotionally exhausted” for quite a while. And then a series of niggling injuries, leading up to a torn left calf muscle in May while playing Angelique Kerber in Rome. This was the most significant injury she had ever suffered, and it genuinely threw her. She missed three months – including Roland Garros, where she was the winner in 2018, Wimbledon (she was the defending champion) and the Olympics in Tokyo.

Halep came back in late summer, losing two of three matches in Montreal and Cincinnati, before credibly reaching the fourth round at the US Open.

Two months later, on friendly turf in Romania, Halep rallied to reach the final in the 2021 Transylvania Open, a little more than a week before mangling her knee in Linz. After eight straight seasons of winning at least one WTA title, Halep didn’t win any. After 373 consecutive weeks in the Top 10, she fell out.

All this while three major events were going on in her life. In September, Halep married her billionaire boyfriend Toni Iuruc in her hometown, Constanta, Romania. A week later, she announced she was parting ways with Darren Cahill, the coach who three years earlier guided her to that breakthrough at Roland Garros. And then she turned 30 – even today, a daunting line of demarcation for tennis professionals.

“The thing I am most proud of after all these challenges,” she wrote in her blog, “is that today I feel confident that I will play well again and, with hard work, I will create some other great moments on court.”

Start of 2022: Her head is tilted, a great grin across her round face – so big, her eyes are partially closed – displaying for the cameras the stylish glass boomerang Melbourne Summer Set championship trophy. The season begins triumphantly with unbridled joy, happiness – or is that relief?

“Yeah, it’s good that I have a restart, refresh in my mind,” she said after defeating Veronika Kudermetova 6-2, 6-3 in the Melbourne final.

Working with Adrian Marcu, who had coached her at the beginning of her career, Halep registered decisive victories over qualifier Destanee Aiava and Elena Gabriella Ruse. Her quarterfinal match against Viktorija Golubic – ranked No.43 – was an entirely different level. Halep was tested and responded with a three-set victory that required 2 hours, 35 minutes. It was the kind of long, grueling match she couldn’t have envisioned winning last year. Maybe not even this year.

“I didn’t really trust I could win this match,” she told WTA Insider, “but I fought until the end.”

In the final against Kudermetova, Halep displayed her customary feistiness, coming back from an early break down in both sets.

In her press conference, Halep added, “I know that I will need these moments during maybe the Australian Open, during the next tournaments. Every match that is hard and that I can win, it’s a big plus for my tennis and for myself, as well.”

It started well at this year’s first major. Halep dismissed Magdalena French in two sets. Afterward, Halep was optimistic.

"I feel like in the big picture, [it] was a good game for the first match,” she said in press. “It's always tough.”

So, how much can she build on her early-season form? Can she manage a third Grand Slam title?

Those two major triumphs aren’t that distant in the rearview mirror. Li Na won the 2014 Australian Open, her second major, just shy of her 32nd birthday. Kerber won 2018 Wimbledon at 30 and Victoria Azarenka reached the 2020 US Open final at 31. Serena Williams, of course, won 10 Grand Slam singles titles after turning 30 – no other woman has won more than three. The last came at the 2017 Australian Open, and Halep sees an opening.

“There is nobody like Serena that is dominating tennis like she did,” Halep said. “Everyone can see that. I feel like anyone from Top 10, also over Top 10, can win a Grand Slam or a tournament. Yeah, there is no big difference between these players in the top.

“I feel that I have my chance, of course. That’s why I’m still playing.”

The year-end goal, she said, is to return to the Top 10. In a single week, Halep covered half of the necessary territory, rising to No.15 from No.20.

“This is the goal and the dream, actually,” she said. “But I know it’s going to be difficult. But also I know it’s possible.

“I see the tennis different in this stage of my life, and it’s more joy, so I’m more relaxed. I don’t put pressure on myself, so I will try to keep that during the matches, which is not easy. Now everything is coming as a bonus, and I’m trying to enjoy more the tennis, not the results.”