MELBOURNE, Australia - World No.1 Simona Halep is ready to get back to work after an extended off-season has left her short on preparation ahead of the first Slam of the season at the Australian Open.
A finalist last year, Halep returns to Melbourne once again as the World No.1, but with a Slam title, her 2018 Roland Garros triumph, in tow.
"Yeah, it's big difference I can say inside myself because I did what I wanted to do," Halep told reporters at her pre-tournament press conference. "I won a Grand Slam finally. Now I can say I'm a real No.1. Before I said without a Grand Slam, you are not a real No.1.
"I'm happy. I'm enjoying the time. Everything I've done last year made me be more relaxed. I try just to improve more in my game and see how good I can be in the future."
Halep comes into Melbourne after an amicable split with her coach Darren Cahil and an off-season that was spent rehabilitating a herniated disk in her back and recovering from an emotionally draining 2018 campaign. Halep returned to competition last week at the Sydney International, where she lost 6-4, 6-4 to Ashleigh Barty.
"I am motivated," Halep said. "But is a little bit different because last year I had about 10, 15 matches before Melbourne, now I have only one, which I lost it.
"I took the risk staying home a little bit longer. I rested because I felt like I'm exhausted after those tournaments and also the year that I had. I enjoyed the time home a lot. Now I feel refreshed to start the year, but still I am a little bit [behind] with everything, preparation and matches.
"But I don't complain. Everything was how I wanted. So now I have just to put my head down and to go and work."
The Romanian reiterated her intention to go without a coach through the start of the season. The 27-year-old is in no rush to appoint a replacement for Cahill, who helped coach her to both the World No.1 ranking and her maiden major.
"For me it's a little bit tough to change the person I'm working every day because I get attached to the people, to my team," Halep said. "I cannot change fast. I didn't want to do that. I wanted to feel that I'm ready to take another challenge.
"Every time you commit to someone in your team, you have to give 100%. So I was not ready in the off-season. Now I'm feeling that I'm getting better.
"As I say always, at this level it is impossible without coach. So maybe in the close future I will have someone. But for the moment, I'm just by myself."
Halep, who has not won a match since Cincinnati last summer, opens her Melbourne campaign against big-hitting Kaia Kanepi on Tuesday, a rematch of their first-round encounter at the US Open last fall. Kanepi won 6-2, 6-4.
Who broke the news of the draw to Simona? Darren, of course.
"Darren actually sent me [a message] because he did the draw [ceremony]," Halep said with a laugh. "I was at Nike taking my new shoes. When I saw the message, I was like, Okay, whatever. I just enjoy the moment with the shoes, then I'll think about the match."