Halep works hard to get back her tennis shine
Young Romanian star was flying high last year, but she is now looking eminently beatable
Just a few months ago, Simona Halep looked like the one who could push Serena Williams hard in women's tennis.
The 23-year-old won six WTA titles in 2013 to rocket into the top 10.
Halep's ranking rose to No. 2 last August after she reached the 2014 French Open final and the last four at Wimbledon.
Then, on Oct 22, she produced a result which reverberated around the world when she thrashed mighty Williams 6-0, 6-2 in the round-robin stage of the inaugural WTA Finals here - a performance the Romanian cited as the best of her career.
Almost a year on, things are very different. She had early exits at both the French and Wimbledon Grand Slams and was upset in the quarter-finals at the Birmingham Championships, where she was the No. 1 seed.
Suddenly, she is struggling with her game, a fact she acknowledged when she met The New Paper yesterday.
And her meteoric rise, with all that come with it, has something to do with the current state of her game.
"Everything just gets big so fast and your life changes," she explained.
"You have many interviews, many requests to be on the cover of magazines, to be on TV, to do contracts.
"Everything is changing and you have to keep your mind focused on what you have to do, and to still work hard, because when you reach the top, it's harder to stay there."
With her striking green eyes and bright smile, the attractive Halep cut a relaxed figure at Marina Bay Sands yesterday.
She was particularly pleased with the prosciutto pizza she made during a celebrity appearance at the Pizzeria Mozza restaurant.
Inevitably, the topic turned back to tennis and she spoke positively about her chances at the US Open in New York from Aug 31 to Sept 13.
"I have expectations. The hard-court is my favourite surface and, if I feel good and I'm healthy, I think I can get some good results there," the world No. 3 said, of the year's final Grand Slam.
"But still, I don't want to think too much, because I want to take my mind off the pressure.
"In the last period, I couldn't play my best because of the pressure and the expectations."
After the WTA Finals round-robin defeat, Williams exacted revenge in a ruthless demolition of Halep in the final, winning 6-3, 6-0.
The American has gone on a tear ever since, winning the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon.
The world waits to see if Williams can complete a rare calendar Grand Slam in New York next month.
Asked what she thought of a final at Flushing Meadows featuring the 21-time Grand Slam winner and herself, the diminutive Halep smiled and said: "Of course that would be a dream for me, but I know it's very difficult.
"I know that maybe it's not going to happen, but I can say that it's possible.
"In my mind now, it's about rebuilding my confidence and to play my best."
Halep has changed her coach three times over the past two years.
She is currently working with Australian Darren Cahill, but she knows winning matches is the only antidote to arresting her poor form.
"From here, I just have to practise hard and play matches to see that I am able to win again," said Halep, who will compete at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, Canada, and in Connecticut, US, before the final Grand Slam of the year.
"I need confidence now and that's why I will play many tournaments at the end of the year."
For the moment, Halep is on course to make a return here in October for the WTA Finals.
She is No. 3 on the leaderboard and could qualify if she achieves success in Toronto, starting on Aug 8.
"It's my goal to be back here, because it's one of the most important tournaments, it's fifth after the Grand Slams," she said.
"But let's see if it's going to happen. I don't want to think too far."
Get set for WTA Finals fever
Building upon record crowds and excitement from the inaugural event last year, the 2015 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global which takes place from Oct 23 to Nov 1 at the Indoor Stadium will see an expanded eight days of competition, including the WTA Legends Classic, WTA Rising Stars Invitational and WTA Future Stars Finals.
This year will also see the first-ever Singapore Tennis Evening at Marina Bay Sands, a gala event held on Friday, Oct 30, to celebrate the annual achievements of the best women players in the world.
A cocktail soiree for private guests kicks off the evening's programme of glitz, glamour and tennis, which will move to the MasterCard theatres at Marina Bay Sands for The Show featuring Paloma Faith - an awards and entertainment spectacle, where fans can witness tennis royalty from the women's game.
Event organisers have also introduced "Advantage Singapore", a programme designed to share the excitement of Asia's biggest tennis festival with fans.
Highlights include tennis workshops at selected primary schools and training programmes such as the Singapore Ball Kids and the WTA Finals Force volunteers programme.
The official Fan Festival starts on Oct 23 and runs through to Nov 1 at the Sports Hub's OCBC Square and is free.
Player practice sessions will also be free during the Fan Festival weekend (Oct 23 to 25) and admission is by valid same-day match ticket or gold-coin donation (to an official charity appointed by the organisers) thereafter.
Tickets for the public start at $16.90 and can be purchased through Sports Hub Tix www.sportshub.com.sg/WTAFinals.
Tickets to The Show featuring Paloma Faith will go on sale this Saturday exclusively on marinabaysands.com.
Tickets for tournament packages will be made available from Aug 1 on marinabaysandspackages.com and Sports Hub Tix ticketing channels.