On the heels of some stressful days in Cluj, Simona Halep has made it over to Stuttgart in order to get her WTA clay season campaign underway. On Wednesday, the Romanian sat down with the press to talk about the pressure of playing at home and her plans for the red dirt after her up and down 2015.
Simona Halep arrived in Stuttgart on Monday but after a long Fed Cup weekend in Romania, the No. 4 seed won’t have to play her first match at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix until Thursday — and the little break was probably most welcome, considering an injury scare she dealt with on Saturday when she rolled her ankle as she faced Andrea Petkovic in Cluj.
“I feel okay,” she said to assembled press in her All-Access Hour. “I got a little bit injured during Fed Cup at the first match with my ankle again; now I feel much better but looks like it’s no more affection [sic] there, it’s just a little bit of pain but nothing seriously.”
Despite the loss at the hands of Angelique Kerber on Sunday, Halep was in good spirits and felt she had put in the miles on the practice court and particularly during her win over Petkovic on Saturday.
“I feel confident now,” explained the Romanian No. 1. “I felt confident in Cluj during the Fed Cup. I played good matches even if the second one was short; I was a bit scared of my injury and I couldn’t run like I do always but first match was pretty tough. Petkovic played really well and it was a good challenge for me to win the match. I tried everything — I was fighting for every ball and that means a lot for me. I’m back, I feel strong, I feel okay mentally, physically as well. I’m ready to play tournaments and matches.”
In the past, the 2014 French Open runner-up had struggled with the pressure, often feeling burdened rather than privileged. Over the past week leading up to the Fed Cup relegation match at home, Halep says she managed to maintain a sense of normalcy, despite all of Romania watching and willing her on to win.
“Actually, it was good week in Romania, even if all the pressure was on me because I had to win two matches — like I heard many times there,” she said. “But you cannot say that for sure you have to win two matches because, for sure, I have good opponents, tough opponents. One won a Grand Slam this year, so [it] was tough to play against her because she has confidence but was a good week. I took it like a positive week, I was working really hard during the week — hard practices. I’m okay, I feel good, now I have just to go on court, to take the confidence to the matches.”
Halep, one of, if not the most famous athlete in her country at the moment, had to adjust fairly quickly to the media and fan whirlwind that comes with stardom, particularly away from the courts — but she can see both sides of fame’s coin.
“I get a little bit tired sometimes with the photos,” the Romanian smiled, “but it’s nice, it’s a nice feeling and I have to do it for the kids because they are very excited when they see me. We had many people coming to support us that week. It was amazing — like 8,000 people so the stadium was full; I really enjoy to play [at] home; it’s not easy but it’s nice.”
In Germany, a country perennially pining back for the glory days of Steffi Graf and Boris Becker, a lot of the talk has been about a possible “new tennis boom” after Angelique Kerber’s victory in Melbourne. Romania is currently in the midst of a tennis revival, with Halep leading the charge of a number of Romanians making noise on the WTA Tour — and a lot of young folks picking up a racket.
“Yeah, I talk to [the kids],” she said. “They want more and more to play tennis, they say because of me but I hope that because of everyone because we have many girls in Top 100 and Top 200. I like to see the kids they are going to play tennis for this reason, but they have to go for their dreams to believe that they can be champions and just to work hard.”
Although many of her career highlights have come on the red stuff, Halep’s choice of preferred surface might surprise. She stated that her favorite surface is hard court — mainly because they were the first courts she played on, despite many assuming otherwise.
“I started to play tennis on hard court in Constanca. Hard court is my favorite but also clay court is good for me; I like it and I did my biggest result there, so it’s good for me.”
One other adjustment Halep has had to handle this year has been another coaching voice in her camp — although it’s one she’s quite familiar with. Halep has been working full time with Darren Cahill since the end of last year, but the Australian isn’t with her this week in Stuttgart. Cahill will join the Romanian next week as the tour heads to Madrid.
“I’m excited always,” she said. “I can’t wait to start the clay season, I know it’s more difficult to play — you have to run more, you have to work more for the points but it’s a nice feeling. It’s always nice to play on red courts — I like the red clay and yeah, it’s exciting always when we start every season.”
Even though Halep had a good start to the clay season last year, making the semifinals in Stuttgart, things went awry during the spring — particularly with early losses in Madrid and at the French Open. As a result, the Romanian is keen to keep expectations as modest as possible.
“No expectations after last year, no expectations,” she said. “I just want to work hard every day to get better and to see if I can do something like big result, but I have no expectations. I just believe that I can do some result, but nothing more.”
Even though Halep isn’t expecting the world, there are certainly going to be a couple of Romanian fans in Stuttgart — much like last year and much like everywhere else that the World No. 6 plays.
“Yeah, they’re coming here,” she said. “Last year was [a] nice crowd as well, but not only the Romanians that were cheering for me. It’s nice always when I go to the tournaments because they are coming all over the world and it’s a nice feeling to have support always.”
Halep will certainly need the support of her vocal fans when she plays hometown favorite Laura Siegemund in her first match on Thursday.