INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - With a little help from Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi, Simona Halep hopes a return to the site of her biggest title might jump start her 2016 season. The 2015 BNP Paribas Open champion prepared for her title defense in Las Vegas with coach Darren Cahill and it just so happened her hitting partners owned 30 Slam titles between them.
"It was very special for me," Halep told reporters during the BNP Paribas Open's All-Access Hour. "It was the first time in Vegas, and the first time meeting them, so it was a special moment and they are great people.
Halep marveled at the continued quality of Graf's forehand and slice. She's never seen a slice like Graf's in today's game and, who knows, maybe we'll see her try that hard, biting shot this week.
"I didn't play much slices when I was younger, and now to put it in the matches is tough," Halep said. "You have no confidence and it's like you don't remember that you have to play slice. It's tough to put them in practical during the matches. I will try. I do more in the practices than before."
But being around two of the game's greats wasn't just about forehands and backhands. What landed the most was the insight into how to handle her Indian Wells return.
"When it's coming from a player who played and had these emotions before, it's something different," she said. "Actually, my coach Darren told me many things that Andre told me. So it's the same but in a different way.
"They told me many things about how to handle the pressure, how to manage the emotions when you go to a tournament and you have to defend a title. Actually, they told me that it's a good thing that I have to defend the title because I take it [as a] positive and I relaxed myself there, and I play better now, more motivated and with big determination."
Halep was happy to report that she was finally fully fit. Hampered by illness in the off-season and an Achilles injury in January, the No.5 seed said she's pain-free and able to practice at full speed. But is she fit enough to lift the crystal Baccarat trophy again?
"I have great memories from last year, but as you know I didn't have a good period [this year but] I'm ok now. I feel ready. I've had almost four weeks training hard every day, so I feel happy that I'm healthy again and that I can play."
But can she really lift that trophy? Last year, the struggle was real:
"Yes, I have bigger muscles this year," Halep said with a laugh.
Halep opens her tournament on Friday against Vania King.