Simona Halep came to Melbourne with odds heavily stacked against her and faced two gruelling matches in her first two rounds at the Australian Open, but the world number one believes the long three-setters will help her get ready for the rest of the year. French Open champion Halep was the finalist at Melbourne Park in 2018, but came to the year’s first grand slam after playing only one match since September – a 6-4 6-4 defeat to Australia’s Ashleigh Barty at the Sydney International.
She was a set and a break down in her opening round against Kaia Kanepi, who bundled her out in straight sets at the U.S. Open in August, and needed to summon all her will power to see off the Estonian in two hours and 11 minutes. On Thursday, she needed two hours and 31 minutes to survive another baseline dogfight against American youngster Sofia Kenin to prevail 6-3 6-7(5) 6-4 and set up a third round clash against multiple Grand Slam winner and former number one Venus Williams.
“Of course, I would prefer a normal tournament, quicker (matches),” Halep told reporters on Thursday. “But also these matches are good for me at the beginning of the year to get the rhythm, to get the energy back, to see that I am able to stay there for two hours, more than two hours. It’s never easy to play long matches. I will try to recover. I will try to relax a little bit, then to think about the third round. Every win is important at this stage. Even more in a Grand Slam. I’m just a positive person now and I’m trying to be happy.”
The Romanian has struggled for form and fitness since her first-round defeat at the U.S. Open last August and came to Australia lacking match practice after a back injury ended her 2018 season prematurely. She was on a five-match losing streak before her first round clash against Kanepi, while also being without a coach after Darren Cahill left for “family reasons.”
Halep, a finalist in Melbourne last year, said she was still not at her best but goes to court with an empty mind. “It’s something natural on court. When I’m stepping on the court, I want to win the match, so everything I have in my head is that. I just wait and see during the matches,” she said. “I cannot say, I’m going to win this match. I have not said, and I will never say (that). Every match is tough, every opponent is working hard like me. It’s open, every match we play. I like to fight till the end and to play with no regrets. After the matches, if I don’t give up, I feel happy, even if I lose the match.”