Simona Halep: ‘It’s Nice To Be Back In Paris’

WASHINGTON, September 27, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

World No. 2 Simona Halep won the first of her two major titles at Roland Garros in 2018. This year, in the absence of last year’s champion, World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, and No. 3 Naomi Osaka, who won the US Open crown two weeks ago, Halep’s chances of lifting the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen trophy this year appear good. Especially, when you consider that she’s the top-ranked player among the six of the Top 10 who are in competing for this year’s French Open title during the Parisian fortnight, which begins Sunday.

When Halep sat for Media Day on Friday she was in a good mood. After all, it’s been than less than a week since she won the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, her second title on clay since the relaunch of the WTA last month following a five-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, and third title overall in 2020 after winning Dubai in February just before pro tennis locked down.

“It’s nice to be back in Paris; I love this tournament. I love this place,” said Halep, who has spent 64 weeks at No. 1 during her career but not since January of 2019. “But it is a little bit too cold, to be honest. Hopefully, we get used to the weather.”

Sunday’s opening day forecast calls for a high of 17Cº and a chance of rain. There is rain in the forecast throughout the week with a high of 20Cº coming during the middle of the week.

“I feel good; I feel confident. But you never know,” Halep said. “So, I will take day by day and I will try to give my best actually every day to get ready for the tournament.”

Halep was asked if she dreams of winning Roland Garros again, after having triumphed on the terre battue two years ago, beating Sloane Stephens of the United States, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. She said: “Every tournament I play, it’s a dream to win it. French Open is very special because was the first Grand Slam. It will stay forever like this.

“Of course, every time I come here, I have the desire to play as good as possible and to go until the end. But as we know, every match is a battle, every match is very tough. I’m not thinking about the title right now. I’m just thinking to play my best every day I step on the court. 

“So, no other dreams for the moment,” she said with a smile.

Halep will celebrate her 29th birthday by playing her first-round match against  No. 78 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain Sunday afternoon, second on Court Philippe Chatrier. A pre-tournament favorite, her path to winning a second Roland Garros title might include:

R1: Sara Sorribes Tormo, R2: Jil Teichmann, R3: No. 25 Amanda Anisimova, R4: No. 15 Marketa Vondrousova, QF: No. 5 Kiki Bertens, SF: No. 3 Elina Svitolina or No. 6 Serena Williams, F: No. 2 Karolina Pliskova or No. 3 Sofia Kenin.

“I’m honored to hear that I am the favorite, people thinking that I’m the favorite,” Halep said. “But I don’t look in that direction. I know that most of the players are favorite because everyone is working hard, everyone is ready for this tournament. So, I’m not going into that too much. 

“I just try to play my chance, try to play every match, and we will see how is going to be in the end.”

Coming into Roland Garros, Halep is on a 14-match winning streak and sits 1,570 points behind Barty in the WTA rankings. She can pass the Aussie and reclaim the No. 1 world ranking if she wins this year’s French Open. Her total of 64 weeks at No. 1 ranks 10th in WTA history.

Any extra pressure, Simona?

“No, it’s not extra pressure. I’m used to this kind of pressure because I’ve been No. 1 seeded in the past,” she said. “I’ve been in this position. So, no, I take it in a right way, and I take it as a normal tournament. 

“So, no extra pressure for me. It’s just a positive pressure that I have.”

Halep said despite the abbreviated 2020 season, she’s grateful to be able to play on clay, where she’s 10-0 this year on the red dirt and has won titles in Prague and Rome.

“I love the fact that I can play on clay. It’s where I feel the best,” she said. … “To play Roland Garros in September, end of September, it’s a little bit weird. But it’s nice that we have the chance to play at this tournament. We should actually thank everyone for fighting so hard to do it possible.”

Around Roland Garros

What they’re saying

Serena Williams, has reached four Grand Slam finals since returning from maternity leave in 2018. Now 39, she comes to Paris this year after reaching the semifinals of the US Open earlier this month and resumes her pursuit of Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. During her Media Day interview, Williams said:  “I think a semifinal is always great. Is it great for me? Absolutely not. That’s just how I feel. That’s how I always feel.

“I’m in a position in my career where I cannot be satisfied. I don’t want to sit here and say, ‘Oh, I’m happy.’ Because I’m not.”

Novak Djokovic is the men’s No. 1 seed and with 18 Grand Slam titles, he’s one behind Rafael Nadal and two behind Grand Slam titles leader Roger Federer. Djokovic’s 2020 season, a 3-1 win-loss record, is being remembered for his lone defeat: his fourth-round disqualification from the US Open for accidentally striking a ball in anger that hit a line umpire in the throat.

During Djokovic’s Media Day interview on Saturday, he addressed the subject:

“I had to accept it and move on. Of course, it was a shock for me and a lot of people,” Djokovic said. “But that’s life, that’s sport. These things can happen. … I won the tournament in Rome just a week later after what happened in New York.

“I did not feel any kind of emotional disturbance or difficulty to actually be able to play or still express my emotions in whatever way. … I have flaws as everybody else. Regardless of the amount of years and experience that I have on the tour, these things can still happen.

“I don’t think significantly it does impact me that I’m unable now to show the fist pump or scream or something like that. It has happened in Rome already and everything is fine. I’m back to normal.”

Johanna Konta of Great Britain on facing 16-year-old American teen prodigy Coco Gauff in the first round Sunday: “It doesn’t matter if she’s 14 or 40. I think she’s there for a reason. It’s going out on court respecting the player that I’m about to play. I’m going to be playing against the tennis she brings, not her social media following, not her persona.”

On the occasion of Serena Williams’ 39th birthday