STUTTGART/WASHINGTON, April 22, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)
World No. 3 Simona Halep is healthy and smiling again – and that’s a good thing for tennis.
The 2018 French Open champion has resurfaced following a right shoulder injury that forced her to withdraw from last month’s Miami Open after just one round. Now, as she readies to play her first match in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart Thursday afternoon against World No. 20 and 2019 French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova, Halep is hopeful of completing a career sweep of all of the major red clay court events in Europe.
After all, according to Halep, she’s always felt “great” on clay and just feels “natural” on the surface – and she’s in good health.
“I had more than two weeks of break and had some treatment on my shoulder,” Halep said during her pre-tournament virtual press conference on Monday.
“I feel much better now and haven’t had pain the last few days that I’ve practiced, both home and here. I feel fit, and hopefully I can stay like that during the matches, as well, because official matches are different than practices.”
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Halep, who has twice won in Madrid (2016-17), captured Rome last year, and triumphed at Roland Garros in 2018. She has twice been semifinalist at Stuttgart in 2015 and 2017, which is the traditional kick off for the WTA’s European clay court season. So, the Romanian knows what it takes to excel on the indoor red clay at Porsche Arena. If she succeeds this time, she will drive off with a brand-new Porsche automobile that goes with a hefty pay check of 55,300 euros and 470 WTA rankings points for winning the WTA 500-series event.
“I want this badly,” the 29-year-old Halep joked. “It’s a nice tournament, nice conditions, and the people are really nice to me here. It’s absolutely one of my goals to win here, as well.
“I want to win all the clay court tournaments, if possible.”
— Porsche Tennis (@PorscheTennis) April 18, 2021
After last year’s five month, pandemic-induced lockdown of the WTA ended in August, Halep went on a nice winning streak on the red dirt, lifting trophies in consecutive tournaments – Prague and Rome – while winning 13 consecutive matches. Then, she came back down to Earth after being upset in the fourth round of the French Open by eventual champion Iga Swiatek of Poland.
“I’ve played good matches and beaten good players here,” Halep stated. “So, I can’t say I don’t like it because I do, but it’s just a little bit tougher to win the tournament.” She attributes the tougher conditions in Stuttgart to being an indoor clay event.
Later during her press conference, the subject of the delayed start to this year’s French Open was brought up and Halep, for one, looks at it as a bonus – she gets an extra week to prepare for the year’s second major.
Helping Halep prepare is her longtime coach Darren Cahill from Australia, who she says is “stuck” with her during the clay season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. This past week, she posted photos of the two of them on her social media platforms. “Having him with me means a lot, because I have confidence when he’s around. We’re having great days,” she said.
Halep’s draw in Stuttgart, should she prevail against Vondrousova, might include a quarterfinal matchup on Friday against No. 8 seed Belinda Bencic and could result in a semifinal clash with No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka. For now, it’s one match at a time for Halep, who enters play this week with a 7-3 win-loss record for 2021.
“I’m probably the most excited player at this time of year,” she said. “I’ve always felt great on clay, and I can’t say I do anything special. I just feel natural on this surface and I trust. I have confidence, so that’s why I’ve probably had good results in the past.”
Siegemund: Confessions of facing the World No. 1
During her press conference Wednesday night after losing 6-0, 7-5 against top seed Ashleigh Barty, Tennis TourTalk asked German No. 2 Laura Siegemund what it was like to face the World No. 1 from Australia. She didn’t spare any thoughts or words, either.
— wta (@WTA) April 21, 2021
“It’s the second time I played her and it’s just extremely tough. I mean, she comes out and she is very solid and unbelievably aggressive at the same time. And, I didn’t feel like I played bad at the beginning, but just whatever I did didn’t matter really.
“Hard to say, it feels like she just played unbelievable in the first set, maybe I was playing so … Sometimes, it’s like you make the people play unbelievably. Maybe, I was playing short or I gave her always the opportunity to be so aggressive. I don’t know.
“Right now, like after the match, I felt like I didn’t play all that bad. I looked much worse than I was plying. Then, in the second set it changed a little bit. I guess, I started to play better. I was more often offensive and played good points. She made a few more errors. Maybe, she didn’t have [a] good first-serve percentage, that might have also made a big difference, but I was much more in the rallies. Once we were in the rallies, once her serve and return stuff was over, I felt actually I’m not in all that bad a position. And then, I felt like I can probably do some damage.
Moving on! 🎾 pic.twitter.com/XLcxT4CUml
— Ash Barty (@ashbarty) April 21, 2021
“I had some looks at a break, not that maybe I had a break point but I played some better return games and then I was really missing that energy in the end. Like I said to my coach, it’s hard to make you feel when it is important, like usually it just feels important, like I don’t know 5-6 down, 30-all on your serve. That’s just normally you don’t have to create that this is like a big moment now. And, it just feels like it doesn’t matter out there. And it does matter.
“I tried to keep that energy up and the adrenaline up and it was just missing, and I think that’s why in the end kind of the second set went away. It has to do really with concentration in the big moments and be really sharp and knowing like the feeling and the adrenaline and the pressure can make you bring out y our best tennis or the good decisions also. And, if that’s missing, it’s a bit random and that’s where I had a problem in the end of the second set.”
Around the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix
— Porsche Tennis (@PorscheTennis) April 21, 2021
Kostyuk upsets No. 4 seed Kasatkina in Istanbul
At the TEB BNP Paribas Tennis Championshpis Istanbul, a WTA 250-series red clay event taking place at the TTF Istanbul Tennis Center in Turkey’s capital city, the quarterfinals began to take shape after four second-round matches were complete, which took place under improved weather conditions on Wednesday.
Advancing to the quarterfinal round were: Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, wild card Ana Konjuh of Croatia, Sorana Cirstea of Romania and Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic.
— wta (@WTA) April 21, 2021
Kostyuk took out No. 4 seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia, 6-3, 7-5, which set the tone for the rest of the day. “Dasha is an amazing player, especially on clay,” Kostyuk said during an on-court interview after her victory. “This is her surface. I’m really, really glad I pulled through in the second set – even though it was very, very close. Dasha is an amazing fighter and I always enjoy playing against her. What I probably wouldn’t do [again] is double fault on 4-1, 30-love in the second set. Overall, I think I did a good job.”
Also, Konjuh eliminated No. 8 seed Wang Qiang of China, 6-1, 6-4. “I’m not a clay person, but I think I am enjoying it so far. I hope I can continue to play this well,” Konjuh said during an on-court interview.
Quarterfinals for the Croat 🇭🇷@anakonjuh continues her fine form with a straight-sets win over No.8 seed Wang!
— wta (@WTA) April 21, 2021
On Thursday, No. 1 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, No. 3 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia and No. 5 seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic are all in action.