‘Happy’ Halep feeling less pressure at French Open


PARIS, FRANCE: Reigning champion Simona Halep on Friday said that the pressure was off ahead of the start of her French Open title defence after ending her long wait for a Grand Slam trophy 12 months ago.

The Romanian beat Sloane Stephens in Paris last year to clinch her maiden major crown in her fourth final and is the third seed for the 2019 edition which starts at Roland Garros on Sunday.

“(It’s) much better and much easier, because I have the title already,” said Halep, who is the bookmakers’ favourite to win a second straight title.

“(It) doesn’t matter anymore what is going to happen. Everything (that) comes now comes as a bonus. So I will try just to give my best and to see if I’m able to do it again.”

The 27-year-old had faced consistent questions heading into the 2018 French Open about her ability to win the biggest tournaments despite holding the world-number-one ranking for long spells, but finally, put those doubts to bed.

Now, she concedes that she is maybe “too happy” to have put herself in the position of defending champion, with a possible gruelling fortnight ahead.

“I am too happy to be in this position, I have to admit this. But it’s nothing bad,” she said.

“I will try to do the things (I did) as a kid, enjoying the time. I wanted this badly, and I wanted (it) so much that now having it, I just want to be happy and to smile.”

Halep has been in typically consistent form this season, although is yet to win a tournament after final defeats in Doha and earlier this month on clay in Madrid, where she was beaten by in-form Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens.

A shock loss in her first match last week in Rome to Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova followed, but her confidence remains high of another run deep into the French Open draw.

“Going to Madrid… maybe my favourite tournament, because I won two times there and I played two finals, even if I didn’t win the final, I felt that my level was very high.

“I have confidence. I don’t count Rome this year. We leave it back. Coming here, practising, I felt really well.”

Halep will face Australian Ajla Tomljanovic in the opening round, with sixth seed Petra Kvitova also in her quarter of the draw.

“It’s going to be a very tough match (against Tomljanovic),” added Halep, also a two-time French Open runner-up.

“She’s powerful. She hits the ball strong. So I have to be ready. I have to focus on myself.”

Tomljanovic reached the fourth round of Roland Garros in 2014.