CINCINNATI, OH, USA - Former World No.1 Simona Halep played peak tennis to win the Wimbledon Championships, and parts of her are perhaps still at the All England Club - still others at home in Romania, where she enjoyed multiple celebrations in the weeks that followed.
"It’s been like a dream since I left the tournament," she sighed during her Western & Southern Open pre-tournament press conference. "Even now, I’m living the dream. I felt positive and confident on court, like I reached my highest level of tennis."
Another athlete might immediately enjoy an off-season in the aftermath of a World Championships or Olympic Games, but when tennis has four such opportunities for Grand Slam glory - all before the season comes to its true culmination at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen - Halep, dealing with the sport's unforgiving paradox, is already on the climb back up.
"We have to keep going. Every day is a new day. I won Wimbledon, but next Monday, we all have to start at the same point."
Such was her start at last week's Rogers Cup, where the defending champion battled to the brink against Jennifer Brady before a foot injury forced her out of the tournament against breakout star Marie Bouzkova in the quarterfinals.
Planning a practice Monday afternoon, Cincinnati's No.4 seed hasn't been on court since.
"I have a little injury, but I feel good and positive. The first match is going to be tough," she said, opening agianst either Ekaterina Alexandrova or former World No.6 Carla Suárez Navarro. "I’m looking forward to getting ready on Wednesday, and give my best."
Halep is hardly one month removed from Wimbledon, where she dropped just one set en route to the title and faced down longtime rivals like Elina Svitolina and 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams - halting the latter's quest for an all-time record-tying 24th title and eighth at SW19.
"After the French Open, I took all the negative pressure I had before, from winning a Grand Slam. The first six months of this year were a little bit more relaxed because I was just trying to improve my game without thinking about the results. This helped me a lot, and when I got to Wimbledon, I started feeling the grass, like I never had before. I got more confident day by day. It was a process, and nothing like a secret."
As she regains her rhythm ahead of the US Open - now the only major tournament where she has yet to reach the final - Halep has the unenviable task of melding together past success and future goals with the aim of achieving a memorable present.
"The US Open is a big difference because of the crowd and the atmosphere. It’s more about entertainment so it’s not easy to adjust. I’m a quiet person, so I’m trying to get better year by year. I’ve made the semis in the past, so I’m confident that there’s a chance to do more."
And for Halep, who has spent her downtime binging episodes of The Crown, more does, indeed, mean more.
"More tournaments, more Grand Slams, if possible, the year-end No.1. But the main one is the Olympics. I want a medal there."