STUTTGART, Germany - Simona Halep can't wait to return to Roland Garros. The World No.2 and reigning French Open champion was forced to withdraw from the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix due to a left hip injury she sustained in a fall over the weekend at the Fed Cup semifinals. Despite the injury and withdrawal, the Romanian says she was very pleased with the level she found on clay in her three Fed Cup matches against France and in good spirits as her clay season begins.
"Every time I start the clay court season it's different," Halep told reporters in Stuttgart. "I'm one year older, but I'm with more experience.
"I love playing on clay, this is the most important thing. I think I have the right game for this surface. So I'm going with confidence into this season, but it's always tough."
Over the weekend, Halep went 2-0 in singles, with wins over Kristina Mladenovic (6-3, 6-1) and Caroline Garcia (6-7(6), 6-3, 6-4), a match that lasted 2 hours and 57 minutes. Pairing with Monica Niculescu, the Romanians narrowly lost in the third set to relinquish the tie.
"I was not surprised [at my level] because always when I get on the clay court season I feel good, I feel excited, I feel happy," Halep told reporters in Stuttgart.
"My level was higher than I expected for sure, but I was not surprised. The second match against Garcia on Sunday, where she played unbelievable, the level was higher and I was very pleased with the way I played."
Halep's next tournament will be the Mutua Madrid Open, which begins in 10 days on May 3rd. Halep said she is confident that taking the time to heal and refresh will have her ready to return Madrid, where she is a two-time champion.
"I'm disappointed that I cannot play Stuttgart because it's a great tournament and it's good for my clay court season, but I played three matches on clay already and I saw my level is high.
"I think the level of play in those matches was really, really high and I'm confident. So it's not going to put me down that I had to retire from this tournament. I'm just looking forward to the next ones."
The 27-year-old has cut a relaxed a figure throughout the 2019 season, which has seen her hold her position in the Top 3 despite having yet to win a title. The new 'chilled out' Simona is an understandable evolution. She has spent her last two seasons in an intense gauntlet, focused on the two-pronged chase to win her first major at Roland Garros and become World No.1.
Halep finally cleared the ledger at Roland Garros last spring. Now, as she readies for her return to Paris, Halep's perspective and motivation are remarkably different.
"I have a better feeling [this year] because I am Roland Garros champion," Halep said with a grin. "I cannot wait to get there to enjoy all the things I have to do. I said yes to everything, just to be sure I don't forget the moment.
"But to go back to Paris will be the best feeling. I don't have pressure. Anything can happen. It's just a moment. I will not be upset, even if I lose quicker or even if I don't do anything on clay. For me, it's the best period of the year."
"I feel good. I can't say the pressure knocks me down. It's just a beautiful moment. It was the best moment of my career, winning that title.
"I just want to go there, but first I have to play a few more matches, a few more tournaments before, and then we'll see what's going on."