Breakthrough year for Halep: Melissa Pine
The first qualifier for the WTA Finals Singapore, the French Open champion is also the world No. 1
Excitement is still resonating after the announcement last week that Simona Halep became the first player to qualify for the fifth and final edition of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
Simona is not only the WTA World No. 1 and in pole position on the Porsche Race to Singapore Leaderboard, she is also the only one to have qualified for all five editions of the WTA Finals in Singapore. It is easy to see why she is a fan favourite here.
It is easy to see why she is the favourite entering the final Grand Slam of the year next week at the US Open.
Simona, 26, has had an incredible journey and her story has inspired fans around the world.
She has had her share of adversity but she has dealt with every obstacle and has emerged as a shining star.
This has been the breakthrough year for Simona. Ironically, it started off badly when she lost her third Grand Slam final at the Australian Open. They wondered if she would ever win a Major.
After focusing on a few key areas in her training regimen, Simona is now at the top of the rankings, and finally won her maiden Grand Slam title at Roland Garros.
Simona's game has evolved tremendously in recent years.
Her surge to the top did not come without hard work, perseverance and the courage to face her biggest weaknesses.
I am much better in that way and I really enjoy the time now. I’m happier, I’m smiling more.Simona Halep, commenting recently on her improvement
In March last year, Simona had to make changes to become better.
Her coach Darren Cahill had walked away, disappointed at her inability to shake off her negative and occasionally destructive attitude on court.
It seemed to be the shock Simona needed. Two months later, after impressing Cahill with her new positivity when he watched her play on TV, the Aussie was ready to return.
Simona has worked extensively on being kinder to herself on the court and dealing with the pressure more effectively.
She also worked with sports psychologist Alexis Castorri on improving her mental strength to handle herself better when she misses shots and manage the pressure.
Commenting recently on her improvement, she said: "I am much better in that way and I really enjoy the time now. I'm happier, I'm smiling more."
These days she is calm and confident on court.
By putting less pressure on herself, focusing less on results and staying in the moment, the results have come tenfold.
Having a more consistent fitness regime has been another key strategy for Simona.
Maintaining consistency in her routine, even if it means doing a bit less some days, has done wonders for Simona.
She is the fittest she has ever been, demonstrating it when she pulled through tough three-set matches to win at the French Open and in Montreal.
She also won the title in the season-opening Shenzhen Open, and has been in the semi-finals or better in seven of the 11 events she has played this year.
Having just been a finalist in Cincinnati, Simona has enjoyed a rest this week and it will put her in a strong position going into the US Open.
Grand Slam events are never easy and in America's Slam, she will be faced with some tough local competitors.
Serena Williams can never be discounted, Sloane Stephens, who Simona defeated in the French Open final, will be looking to defend her title, and Madison Keys, a finalist last year, will also be vying for the trophy.
Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber, a strong contender on hard court, and reigning WTA Finals champion Caroline Wozniacki, a finalist at the US Open in 2009 and 2014, will also be tough opponents.
But the new Simona will be a formidable force in New York.
And we look forward to seeing her smile when she ends her incredible year at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in October.
- Melissa Pine is the vice-president of WTA Asia-Pacific and the tournament director of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. She is also a former NCAA player at Washington State University and served as assistant coach of the team post-graduation. To find out more about the WTA Finals, visit www.wtafinals.com