- Alex Sharp

The Romanian clinched a maiden Grand Slam at RG18 en route to finishing the season world No.1.

Simona Halep all smile in the lockeroom with the RG18 trophy©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
A year to remember


Simply put, Simona Halep captioned a series of Instagram pictures from Singapore as ‘best year ever.’

The world No.1 was clutching her ‘Player of the Year’ trophy at the WTA Finals. Unfortunately for fans and media, Halep was forced to withdraw from the event through injury, but had the chance to reflect on her favourite campaign of an already captivating career.

 

So why is this Simona’s top season?

Well, benefiting from a prolonged off-season, training on familiar territory at home in Romania and streamlining practice sessions, these all gave Halep the perfect launchpad to challenge for the biggest prizes on offer.

It’s been another year of astonishing consistency, boosted by the calming but authoritative influence of coach Darren Cahill.

Finishing 2018 with a 46-11 match record included a maiden Major at Roland Garros, further titles in Shenzhen and Montreal, alongside final appearances at the Australian Open, Rome and Cincinnati.



22 victories within 25 matches from the start of Rome through Cincinatti evokes Halep’s relentless consistency and ability to produce her best tennis in the crunch moments.

This plethora of wins culminated in qualification for a fifth straight ticket to the WTA Finals in Singapore, the only player to achieve this, together with 40 weeks perched top of the rankings.

"Winning a Grand Slam and finishing No.1, I think it's the most that I could ask for,” Halep told reporters in Singapore.

"It's been actually the best year so far but also the toughest one, emotionally, physically, mentally, everything. It was difficult to handle, but I can say I'm really proud.”



Fleeting visit to the Finals

A herniated disk in Halep’s back curtailed her campaign and a shot at a first ever WTA Finals title.

“I'm really happy to be in the position I am in even if I cannot play this tournament,” added the 27-year-old during press duties in Singapore.

“I'm happy with everything I've done. I've been very professional. I've been working to prevent the injuries but some injuries you cannot control. So, I finish this year very positive.”



Paris pinnacle ends the heartache


Finally, the line of questioning is over for Halep.

‘When will you win a Slam?’ or ‘Why do you think you haven’t made a Major breakthrough?’ met a very patient Halep at every Grand Slam.

This summer at the fourth attempt, the Romanian banished the heartache to rule Paris.

2014, Maria Sharapova edged Halep in the French Open final. 2017, Jelena Ostapenko blitzed from the baseline to keep Simona searching. Onto 2018, Caroline Wozniacki prevailed in their epic Melbourne duel, before a magical fortnight in Halep’s life this summer.

A Grand Slam champion for the first time, at her favourite tournament at Roland Garros.

“I didn't feel the pressure that I still had to make a big result,” insisted Halep. “So that No.1 (at the end of 2017) took the pressure off my shoulders and I just enjoyed more and my focus was in other directions, just to improve my game, just to be better on court with my attitude, and just giving everything I have. 

“I also decided last year that I won't give up at any point during the matches and I think that's why I was able to do that result (final) in Melbourne.”

Fellow Major champions Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza and Sloane Stephens failed to topple the abundance of endeavour, grit and resolve from Halep’s half of the court.

Even in the final, the Romanian overhauled a set and 0-2 deficit facing Stephens. Inspired by falling narrowly short in 2017, Halep was determined to switch up the tactics and tease the errors from the American’s racquet on Court Philippe Chatrier.

“The final from last year helped me 100 per cent because this time I took it. I went for it,” explained the year-end No.1. “Before the match, Darren (Cahill) told me that it's in your hands. You have to feel the pressure. It's a big chance and you have to take it. So, I had that already set in my mind. That's why I won it. I think mentally I won it.”



Still leading the pack

Over 1,500 points separate Halep and her nearest ranking rival, Wimbledon champion Kerber.

The Roland Garros ruler hails a shift in mentality for assembling an imposing record and finally scribing her name onto the Major Honours Roll.

“I think the mental part, the communication, and the work that I've done every day helps me to stay there and to be consistent. It's not easy,” declared Halep in conversation with WTA Insider.

“I had some tough losses, I didn't give up and they didn't bring me down. I didn't make steps backwards because I have a good team and they are very positive.

 “It's very powerful these days. I'm not that strong. I'm not that tall. So, I try to put more attention and be focused on what I have the best, so I work on that. I think I improved in those ways.”

A period of required rest and recuperation is now on the menu. Players will be hitting the practice courts and fitness sessions searching for the answers to reach Halep’s daunting consistency.

Can Cahill and co inspire another ‘best’ season for Simona in 2019?