TORONTO, Canada - Defending Rogers Cup champion Simona Halep faces the rare challenge of having to win the same title in two different cities. The last woman to win Montréal and Toronto in back-to-back years was Martina Hingis, who ended last millennium with one title and began the next with the other.
“Yesterday, I was thinking on the way to the hotel, ‘Why don’t they make every year Montréal and every year Toronto so we can have both?’ I miss Montréal!” Halep told press during Monday’s All-Access Hour. “It’s tough, but it’s nice that we can switch, and don’t get bored. It’s a good thing, and I think it makes things more interesting every year.
“Everywhere has the same chocolate so either way, I’m in a safe spot!”
It’s already been an interesting year for Halep, who struggled with injuries the first three months only to catch fire during the clay court season, defending her Mutua Madrid Open title and finishing runner-up at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. Twice she was one win away from becoming the WTA World No.1, most recently at Wimbledon, where she was two points away from denying Karolina Pliskova the elusive mantle before falling to British No.1 Johanna Konta in three sets.
“To be able to be No.1 in the world means a lot; I wouldn’t know, I’ve never been there. I really want to congratulate her because it’s amazing. In my opinion, she deserves it, because she’s won a few titles and made the US Open final.
“I hope to make that position one day, but I don’t want to think about that. If it happens, I’ll be the happiest person, but I still have to work harder.”
In between the hard work, Halep has taken time to unwind, processing the tough ends to her clay and grass seasons and preparing for the North American hardcourt swing, where she’s had some of her most consistent results.
“I didn’t feel exhausted. I took some days off. I took a mini-holiday after the French Open. Everything is ok. I’m still disappointed from those matches, but I’m here and ready to start. I feel like I’ve restarted everything, and I’m looking forward to making my goals come true.”
Along with her goals, the Romanian has taken to perusing motivational quotes in search of inspiration, posting several to her Instagram at the start of the summer.
“I look through them every day. I read them on the Internet and I like posting those kinds of things. I think they give me a good impulse to move forward.”
She gave similar advice to Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu. Born to Romanian parents, Andreescu called Halep an idol during her pre-tournament press on Sunday, and the World No.2 was equally effusive in praising the 17-year-old.
“She’s a good person, very nice. She has the desire to be there. I wish her luck, and hopefully she’ll be on top soon. She deserves it because she’s been working hard. It’s nice to be in this position because as a kid, I had idols, and I was always trying to learn something from the bigger players. It’s a nice feeling that some players see me as a role model.
“I talked with her last year in Montréal. We did a function together and we spoke on the way back. I remember telling her to move up, and not to play juniors anymore. If that was bad advice, sorry! I think it’s good for her, because she needs to face stronger players to get better faster.”
It’s advice Halep herself wished she’d heard, but probably wouldn’t take, having finished her junior career with a Grand Slam title, winning the 2008 French Open.
“I stayed in juniors too long, until 18. It was a little bit too much, but I’m really proud that I could win a Grand Slam in juniors. It might not be that important, but for me it was, in that moment, and it still is. To get up to the top level faster, a teenager needs to start playing WTA matches earlier.”
Seeded No.2 in Toronto, she got an early start in the 6, enjoying a weekend practice after recovering from heat illness incurred at the Citi Open in Washington, DC, and finds herself eager to kick off her title defense against either Mirjana Lucic-Baroni or lucky loser Magdalena Rybarikova. The Wimbledon semifinalist replaced 2016 Rogers Cup runner-up and Bank of the West Classic winner Madison Keys.
“I think I feel the game pretty well here. The courts suit me, and the atmosphere and the crowd is always with me when I play. Everything makes it easier to be here and play my best tennis.
“I have a few tournaments that feel like home. This is one of them.”