Dobre on Halep: "She can do everything.”

We chat with Simona's new coach for insights into the defending champ.

Daniel Dobre and Simona Halep© Cédric Lecocq / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

“She is a perfectionist. You can’t make mistakes, you have to be very, very careful,” Daniel Dobre told with a beaming smile. “Coaching Simona is a dream, I’m very proud.”

Darren Cahill guided Simona Halep for four years and helped her to Grand Slam glory and to the peak of the sport in 2017 and 2018. But since the Australian took a 12-month hiatus, it was an intriguing prospect of ‘what next for Simona?’

Announcing their partnership in Miami, Halep said: “I trust him, and we had a good collaboration in the past… We have a good connection, and it makes things easier." 

The former ATP player, who peaked at No.832 in the rankings 30 years ago, turned to coaching at age 21 and is renowned in his homeland for transforming juniors into prospects on the pro circuit through the national federation or academies.

They met a year before Halep won the Roland-Garros girl’s title in 2008 and now he is back for a third stint in the team. Dobre first joined the set-up over the winter of 2013, in a part-time role for 2014, proudly recalling Halep’s first ever victory over Serena Williams at the WTA Finals at the tail-end of that campaign. 

He then had the “pleasure” of complimenting Cahill’s work between 2016-17.

Simona Halep and Daniel Dobre© Cédric Lecocq / FFT

This is an appointment built on familiarity, trust and respect.

“The tennis community in Romania is small. So all the time there is some sort of contact, for example at Fed Cup. I was pleased to be invited when she has a birthday, or when she celebrated her Roland-Garros victory last year,” Dobre said.

“We have always kept in touch, But it was also a surprise because I had my job, my club, my juniors that I was working with. I was surprised as I heard she wanted to try work alone. 

“The relationship we have is not only coaching, we are friends. It’s crucial the player is always saying what they need and want. We are very direct with each other, we have the best communication.”

Halep embraces bigger profile

From the very first practice at the Miami Open, Dobre has relished the task of keeping Halep in silverware contention and is pleased to see his friend at ease.

“She’s changed a lot. People around look differently at her, she’s more comfortable in her social life, she’s friends with a lot of people of the tour, she talks to a lot of coaches. She really appreciates it in this community,” Dobre explained. 

“Before it was also unbelievably nice, but she was a little bit closed, she found it easier to keep her thoughts to herself. Now she is much, much more confident not only on the court, but outside it.”

For Dobre, the world No.3 has all the tennis tools at her disposal, but has been astounded by Simona’s mental fortitude and application.

The progress in Paris has been to plan. Three rounds, three displays of determination and guile. However, Dobre is insisting the defending champion must keep her tunnel vision. “What is more important is for her to fight for each point, to behave well, with the right attitude to not head off the court without giving everything,” he said.

“You see so many seeds here losing or struggling on both the men’s and women’s side. The first target is to have no regrets.”

Roland-Garros 2019 - Halep©Philippe Montigny / FFT

Dobre realises the complexities of modern; every player is different in style, body, temperament and talent. He delves into every possible avenue, pouring over statistics and video analysis and scouting opponents.

“I always bring together a plan. A lot of the opponents she knows already, she’s played, so she already has something in the mind. If I have noticed something new, ‘she’s hitting more drop shots than before’, I tell her, but she is such an independent player. She always has the first call tactically, but I am always prepared to add something having all the information to hand,” he explained.

Daniel Dobre© Cédric Lecocq / FFT

Cahill’s endeavour evidently provided the perfect platform for Dobre to build from. 

“I’m still speaking with Darren right now, he knows the tour better than me,” Dobre revealed. “He found a way to push everything out from Simona. It’s not about tennis, he was great on the contact for emotional and mental side of the game.

“He achieved a lot because she opened a lot, she’s tried new things, he opened her mind and soul. I cannot be Darren, I have to try a few things differently but all the time I try to go the same way. It is the Simona way, it’s about small variations to keep it fresh.

“Darren is the kind of father of her success and I’m like the Uncle.”

Now that the Grand Slam question has been answered, Dobre is urging Halep to truly express herself on court and unlock the full potential.

“If people saw what she manages to do in practice it’s unbelievable, but sometimes in competition she gets a little bit more contracted,” he said.

“My first goal is that she plays freely most part of the matches, and the second goal is related, to really show her talent.

“She can do things with the ball like Federer with the variety, she can do everything.”

“Darren is the kind of father of her success and I’m like the Uncle.”

Wielding her racquet on the terre battue as defending champion brings extra intensity and expectation, but Dobre believes Halep is not daunted by this situation.

“She likes to figure these things out herself. She’s very strong and most of the time solves these problems alone,” he said. “As the tournament progresses it is better to let out all this pressure and these thoughts.

“We are on a good wave, she is comfortable in her game, she seems in a perfect place mentally to defend her title.”