Changes of habits for Simona Halep?

 - Alix Ramsay

After two full seasons of tension like she had never known before, the RG18 champion just want to be good to herself.

Simona Halep focusing on Wimbledon 2019© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Of all the many, many talents that Simona Halep possesses, juggling is not the first one that springs to mind. And yet the world No. 7 and the Roland Garros champion of 2018 is trying to keep several balls in the air as she makes her way through the rounds at Wimbledon. 

The first goal is to “chill”. After winning her first Grand Slam trophy in Paris – it was her third Grand Slam final – she vowed that she would have a “chill year” this year.

It had been an almighty struggle to claim that first trophy and with every final that came and went before she got it, the pressure mounted. She knew she was good enough to win, she just needed everything to fall into place at the right time for her to do it. And then she beat Sloane Stephens and suddenly the pressure valve was released.

Determined to give herself a break

As if that were not bad enough, she had spent months and months of the previous year hunting down the No.1 ranking. Opportunities presented themselves and she would miss them until finally, in October 2017, the rankings computer did its sums and Simona was elevated to the top spot.

After two full seasons of tension like she had never known before, she was determined to give herself a break. So that is the first ball to be kept aloft: being good to herself.

But having achieved everything she had ever dreamed of, Simona was not about to let that all slip away. No, becoming a Roland Garros champion was to be a springboard to even greater things. Now she must work her socks off to be even better. That is ball two to be kept in orbit.

Simona Halep running for a ball at Wimbledon 2019© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

"I'm still working hard"

“It's different a little bit because I won Roland-Garros last year,” she explained. “My mind changed a little bit. But when I said this is a chill year, I didn't mean that. My English is not that great when I want to translate something from Romanian.

“I'm still working hard. I'm motivated. I want to win every match I play. But I want to be chill as a person more than last year. I don't want to stress myself that much about the result. Also the nerves should be less because I did everything I wanted. So now everything, it comes as a bonus.”

Ball three involves changing the habits of a lifetime as she shapes her campaign plan for Wimbledon. Clay is Simona’s natural hunting ground, the slower surface where she can create and construct her points, where she is sure of her movement and she can slide into position like a whippet on castors. But grass? That is whole different ball game.

“It's totally different, the game,” she said. “I cannot slide here as I like on clay court. You don't have that much time to think about the shots. You have to be very fast, a little bit to block the balls when the opponents are hitting strong. So is different. I'm trying just to improve in this way. Today I did not go to the net at all, but my goal is to do that.”

And now, Vika !

So the goal is to be more aggressive, to adapt and react to the conditions. But, primarily, to be aggressive – she knows she must be if she is to stand a chance of beat Victoria Azarenka on Friday.

To get there, Simona came through an awkward and, at times, messy encounter with Mihaela Buzarnescu, her fellow Romanian, to win 6-3, 4-6, 6-2. But Vika will pose a completely different challenge.

They have met four times and have two wins apiece but Simona has won the last two: at the US Open four years ago and at Wimbledon two years ago. Simona, then, knows what to expect and what to do.

“We had very tough matches in the past,” she said. “It's going to be a big challenge for me, tough one, because she's playing not very flat but she's very aggressive. So on grass it's not that easy.

In doubt, Simona Halep, at Wimbledon 2019?© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Juggling act

“I remember from two years ago I was really aggressive, too. If I go back, I have no chance. So I will try to do that. I will try to be strong. It's tough to explain the game on grass court because you never know what to expect.

“It's important also the serve, how you return, to open the court. You don't have that much time to do that.”

That leaves Simona trying to relax while trying to work harder than ever, trying to be aggressive and win every match while not worrying about the result and doing all of this while trying to beat Vika.

And if she can manage to do it while whistling Yankee Doodle Dandy, that really will be one heck of a juggling act.