SINGAPORE - She's done it again. World No.1 Simona Halep has won the 2018 Porsche Race to Singapore for the second consecutive season, finishing the WTA regular season with 6,921 points from 15 tournaments, outpacing her nearest rival, Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber by over 1,500 points.
"It's been actually the best year so far but also the toughest one, emotionally, physically, mentally, everything," Halep said on the Porsche Race to Singapore Podium Podcast. "It was difficult to handle, but I can say I'm really proud that I could make it again. Being No.1 at the end of the year and winning my first Grand Slam, it's very special. I think I couldn't ask for more."
Halep's outstanding 2018 campaign saw her win three titles, including her maiden major at Roland Garros, Montreal, and Shenzhen. Halep also reached her first Australian Open final and the finals in Rome and Cincinnati. In all, the 2018 WTA Player of the Year finished the season with a 46-11 record and spent 40 weeks of the season atop the Porsche Race to Singapore Leaderboard.
Halep reflects on her grueling season, the 2017 Paris heartbreak that she credits for her 2018 triumph, and why her most efficient season turned out to be her best on the Porsche Race to Singapore Podium Podcast below:
WTA Insider: I am here with Simona Halep who is once again the winner of the 2018 Porsche Race to Singapore.
Simona it's been an emotional season for you. It's been a physical season for you as well. When you look back at what it took for you to to get here, to get to No.1 on the Porsche Race to Singapore Leaderboard, what has been the key and what do you think you'll take away from the season?
Halep: Well, yeah, it's been a tough one. It's been actually the best year so far but also the toughest one, emotionally, physically, mentally, everything. It was difficult to handle, but I can say I'm really proud that I could make it again. Being No.1 at the end of the year and winning my first Grand Slam, it's very special. I think I couldn't ask for more.
I'm really happy to be in the position I am in even if I cannot play this tournament. I'm happy with everything I've done. I've been very professional. I've been working to prevent the injuries but some injuries you cannot control. So I finish this year very positive.
WTA Insider: Let's go back to the start of the year. Actually, we were sitting here in Singapore last year doing this very podcast, you had gotten to No.1, you'd finish the year as the 13th WTA Year-End No.1, your lucky number, and you go into the off-season. You have this No.1 ranking next to your name, still chasing that first Slam.
What was your mindset in December when you're about to board the flight to China to go to Shenzhen to start your season?
Halep: Well first thing was that I had one extra week holiday, so the most time off that I ever had. It was four weeks. So I think I got it because I finished No.1. Then I started slowly to play. Darren came to Romania for the off-season training. It was great. Actually, I feel like I haven't worked that much. But we worked very smart. And when I left for HuaHin, the first destination, I felt ready and fresh.
So the off-season was really great last year and I didn't feel the pressure anymore. Even if I haven't won a Grand Slam in that moment, I didn't feel the pressure that I still had to make a big result. So that No.1 took the pressure off my shoulders and I just enjoyed more and my focus was in other directions, just to improve my game, just to be better on court with my attitude, and just giving everything I have.
I also decided last year that I won't give up at any point during the matches and I think that's why I was able to do that result in Melbourne.
WTA Insider: You have all that on your mind and then you get to Melbourne. You started your year really well. You win the title in singles and doubles in Shenzhen. You go to Melbourne, you roll your ankle in the first match against Destanee Aiava. We're all thinking, Oh boy. The World No.1 is going to go out of the Australian Open with an injury.
But you bounce back from that and then play just an unbelievably physical tournament. You went 15-13 and saved match points against Lauren Davis earlier in the tournament, you go 9-7 in the third against the Angelique Kerber in the semifinal, and then obviously that tough three-setter against Caroline Wozniacki in the final.
It seems to me last year was a very mental year for you. This year, even from your first couple of tournaments, this was a very physical year for you. What did it feel like to have to go up and test your physicality so early in the season after coming off the off-season? What did you learn from Melbourne?
Halep: Last year was a very mental year because I lost that final of the French Open and also losing three opportunities to be No.1. It was really tough to stay there and to handle it, but finally, I did.
This year was very physical. Rolling my ankle again, I think it was the third year in a row in the first few tournaments that I did that injury. Actually, I got used to that injury, so it doesn't scare me that much. But that match was really important, that I could calm down and could stop the afraid feeling, when you are afraid to keep playing. And after I passed that match I said that I'm strong enough to go ahead.
Then the second match was unbelievable. I cannot imagine how I could resist. Also winning other matches after that match gave me confidence that my level is really high. The fact that I feel that I didn't work that much in offseason, I'm pretty sure that I did. Even if I'm not staying three hours, four hours on court, I think what I'm doing, I'm doing in the right way. So that gives me the possibility to never give up and feel stronger mentally because my physical is great.
The final in Melbourne gave me all the emotions possible. Also the frustration that I lost, also the happiness that I could play two Grand Slam finals in six months. And then being so close, 4-3 in the third, and losing again, gave me also a little bit of disappointment. But the fact that after that match I came back stronger helped me actually to win the French Open.
WTA Insider: It's been a very efficient season for you. Like you said, you don't spend three hours on the practice court anymore. Now you practice smarter. You didn't overplay this here either. The schedule was very, very tight. But you were consistently making, especially in the first eight months of the season, semifinals and quarterfinals of a lot of the tournaments. How do you do that?
What is the different mindset when you have to play knowing that, because you're not playing a lot and you can't get a ton of points everywhere, that every tournament really, really matters regardless of whether it's a Slam or a Premier?
Halep: Well every time when I step on court it doesn't matter what kind of tournament I play. For me it's 100 percent important and I give 100 percent. So every time I did that, especially this year. And that's why I had to withdraw from some tournaments and I'm really sorry for those tournaments. It's not nice that I had to withdraw.
But when it comes to my health I always put it as my priority. So that's why I took those decisions. They were not easy but I have to make them and to accept them. To play every tournament almost till the end, it means a lot to me mentally and that's why I think I could finish No.1 this year because the confidence that I am always in the last four players showed me that I have everything to be in the top again.
WTA Insider: I've talked to a bunch of top players and asked them about you and about what makes Simona so difficult. What do you think about the fact that she's been the dominant No.1. You've been No.1 this year for every week except for four weeks of the season.
They all say her average level is better than ours. Even on those days where you can't bring your A-game, that you find ways to get wins because consistency on the tour is difficult these days because the depth is tough.
Halep: Exactly. The fact that I was so consistent makes me more confident and also the fact that I had some tough losses, I didn't give up and they didn't bring me down. I didn't make steps backwards because I have a good team and they are very positive. They give me credit when I do good matches. Also they tell me, actually Darren tells me when I play bad, but he gives me credit that I won that match.
So I think the mental part, the communication, and the work that I've done every day helps me to stay there and to be consistent. It's not easy. It's very powerful these days. I'm not that strong. I'm not that tall. So I try to put more attention and be focused on what I have the best, so I work on that. I think I improved in those ways.
WTA Insider: When we look back on the season, the three standout moments of the year was that run in Melbourne, Obviously Paris, and then just the incredibly grueling two weeks you had in North America between Montreal and Cincinnati. I think that those were the three moments where people stood back and took notice of all the improvements that you've put together in your game over the last five years.
So talking about Paris, a happy memory. As you said, heartbreak there last year and then to come back and to find yourself in that final again Sloane Stephens on the flip side of what had happened the year before, which was it looked like Sloane was gonna run away with it. She was playing so, so well and you were the one that was able to turn it around from a break down in the second set.
How often do you think about that match and have you rewatched it? What are the vibes that you still carry with you from that two weeks in Paris and finally getting your hands on that trophy.
Halep: Well definitely the match from last year helped me to win this one. I can say 100 percent that. The fact that she was leading with a set and a break and playing so great, actually I didn't expect her to play so well on clay. So the topspin and the fact that she didn't push that much she hasn't been that aggressive, just rolling the ball and making me play one extra ball. It was really tough for me mentally and also took me by surprise.
Then I was more aggressive in the second set. At 2-0 I went three or four times to the net. I said if I don't change I have no chance, and this is really bad that I don't change anything and keep losing. So I did that. There it was, I think, the key of the match. I felt that I'm strong enough on that way as well and I just went for it.
The match from last year helped me because this time I took it. I went for it. Before the match, Darren told me that it's in your hands. You have to feel the pressure. It's a big chance and you have to take it. So I had that already set in my mind. That's why I won it. I think mentally I won it.
WTA Insider: In terms of the memory, when you look back on that match what is the memory that still sits inside you?
Halep: Very heavy emotion, I can say still I have it. Because it's my favorite tournament, I had all the friends, I have special guests in the crowd next to my parents. Gheorghe Hagi, Mr. Tiriac was there, Nadia Comenici was there. So many good friends and also my whole family came to support me. So the moment after the title, it was really special and I will keep it forever. The hugging part.
Also, you asked me if I watched the match. To be honest, I couldn't for a few weeks. I can say months. I started to watch it but I couldn't resist the emotion. It was really tough. And then in U.S. I asked Darren to watch it again together and we watched it. And I finally finished it.
I was really proud that I could win that third set, not easier, because it was really hard, every ball, but the score was really good with 6-1.
WTA Insider: Do you still look back on that dropshot get that you had in that third set and kind of shake your head, like Wow.
Halep: Yeah, I think it was the most important point of the match because it was at 3-0. Last year it was close and I lost that ball at the net, when it was going like 10 meters out but the ball came back in. So it was really important, and when I fist pumped and looked at the box, they were very high and very happy about that shot. I said, 'Now I have it.'
WTA Insider: Last question for you, which is about the summer run because that was a big pick up of points. It was just impressive, because you had to play so many matches in so few days because of the rain up in Montreal. Again you faced off against Sloane in that final. Again another dramatic one three-setter. You and Sloane have a great rivalry. If you two ever play I think everybody is going to tune in because of just the way that your games match up.
But to get through that and then turn around and play so well again in Cincinnati, was that a different feeling than what you had done in Melbourne?
Halep: I think it was pretty similar. I felt in the same way because I was exhausted. I was really disappointed and, still today, I'm really disappointed that I couldn't win that final. I had match point and I was not brave enough to hit that ball stronger, but Kiki Bertens deserved to win. She played really well and she's here in Singapore so it means that she had the good feeling of the match and that's why she was stronger in the end.
It's been a great two tournaments and the tough schedule, playing two matches in a row with tough opponents, it was really difficult. And also maybe because of Melbourne and because of these two tournaments, I got injured and I feel exhausted now. So it was positive because I could resist that marathon, but also it was a little bit of negative because it made me finish the season earlier.
WTA Insider: Well it's never easy, but on the Porsche of Singapore you have to get those points, you have to play consistently, you have to get them, and the fact that you were able to almost lock it down and stay ahead of the pack the entire time was incredibly impressive. So this was this was quite the season you put together, Simona Halep. So congratulations and enjoy your offseason.
Halep: Thank you very much. I'll really enjoy it for sure. And hopefully next year I will play more than 15 tournaments. Thank you.