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Rising star Simona Halep aims to build on French success

Simona Halep smiles during her press conference
by Vivienne Christie
Saturday 21 June 2014

It wasn’t so long ago that Simona Halep had to scroll through four online pages before finding her name in the WTA rankings.

Now, sitting at a career-high of world No.3, it takes just a glance to see the 23-year-old is well and truly among the game’s upper echelons.

“I said my dream is to be on the first page,” she said at the All England Club on Saturday. “So now I am there, and I am really happy ... I want just to enjoy this moment and to try to improve more in my game and to be maybe second or first.”

While the likeable Romanian is quick to note the difficulties – “I am still very far” – it’s also clear that she can entertain far bigger dreams. Halep’s major-winning potential had long been touted but became more obvious after an epic final at Roland Garros, where she lost in three sets to Maria Sharapova, who described the match as “the toughest Grand Slam final I’ve ever played.”

Halep’s bitter disappointment at surrendering that opportunity was soon assuaged when she returned home to Constanza in Romania. “It was an amazing feeling when I arrived home because they stopped the plane just on the red carpet at the airport and everybody was waiting for me, about 300 fans,” she said. “It was incredible; for me, the best moment of my life.”

If recent Grand Slam progress is any indication, it won’t be the only success for Simon and her growing legion of fans to celebrate. After a fourth round run at the US Open in 2013, she was a quarter-finalist at the Australian Open and runner-up in Paris. Despite her second round exit against Li Na in 2013, there are signs that Halep’s pattern of continued improvement could well include Wimbledon success.

Winning ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 2013 provided Halep with critical confidence in her grass-court game, along with an understanding of what’s required to keep improving on the surface. She acknowledges that superior movement, a strong serve and relentless aggression will all be important at this tournament. “But I feel good here and I think I will play good here,” she said.

A niggling upper back injury that forced Halep’s withdrawal before the second round of the recent ‘s-Hertogenbosch event no longer appears a problem. “I had a good recovery. I have my physio with me. Every day he worked on the muscle,” she explained. “Now I feel good and I think I'm 100 percent to start this tournament.”

Given Halep’s rapid rise – she was unseeded in 2013 but after seven tournament titles since, is No.3 seed in 2014 – it’s the mental pressures that might seem more troubling for the youngest member of the world’s top 10. However she possesses a remarkably mature perspective of her growing celebrity appeal.

"Everybody knows me now and a lot of people are speaking about me and are watching me. In Romania, all the press, every day they are watching me,” she said. “It's a little bit difficult, but I just want to think about tennis now and nothing else.”

It’s a wise approach given Halep’s impressive performance in her first Grand Slam final just two weeks ago. Now she’s simply determined to keep building on that success.

“I didn't believe before the French Open that I can play final. I'm honest when I say this,” she admitted. “The Grand Slams are very difficult tournaments because everyone is playing really good. Every match, it's tough. But I'm looking forward to go very far in this tournament and to give everything I can at the moment on court.”

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