"I have just to put my head down and to go and work," The World No.1 told reporters ahead of the Australian Open.
WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen
January 12, 2019

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."

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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. 

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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."