MELBOURNE, Australia — For Simona Halep, it was higher to suppose that the United States Open wasn’t held final 12 months.
“Never happened,” Halep mentioned, grinning. “That tournament didn’t exist.”
Top-seeded Halep was ousted from that match inside its opening hours, blasted off the courtroom by Kaia Kanepi in a 6-2, 6-Four demolition that despatched shock waves by way of the newly constructed Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Five months and 10,000 miles faraway from that scene on Tuesday night on the Australian Open, Halep was ready to construct again her sturdy defenses, digging right into a gritty first-round rematch and defeating Kanepi, 6-7 (2), 6-2, 6-Four, in 2 hours 11 minutes.
Halep, who has had an inclination to give into negativity when being outplayed, didn’t relent this time. She expressed frustration, exasperation and disbelief after Kanepi struck a lot of her 40 winners, however remained dialed in all through.
Halep mentioned all she might management was her effort.
“I think it’s the best match I played in the last period, not giving up for one ball,” she mentioned. “I think I improved in that direction.”
Halep’s constant, rugged protection finally outlasted Kanepi’s attacking; Halep hit solely eight unforced errors within the last two units, in contrast with 36 by Kanepi.
Though a first-round win in opposition to a participant ranked 71st wouldn’t usually be a milestone for a high seed, it was a steep take a look at for Halep. Not solely had she been clobbered by Kanepi of their earlier assembly, Halep had not received a match since, dropping thrice and pulling out of the year-end championships with a again damage.
Halep, who has maintained her No. 1 rating regardless of not successful a match since August in Cincinnati, projected no precariousness. “If I’m thinking of all these things,” she mentioned, “I cannot play tennis anymore.”
A No. 1 ranked participant whose rating deserves a Wheaties field however whose dominance belongs on the aspect of a milk carton is hardly a uncommon phenomenon in girls’s tennis. Dinara Safina, Ana Ivanovic and Angelique Kerber are amongst these went by way of crises of confidence once they reached the highest of the ladder. Halep preached contentment, notably after successful a long-awaited first Grand Slam title eventually 12 months’s French Open.
“I’m not putting pressure on myself anymore with the results, but I’m still motivated,” she mentioned. “What comes now, it’s a bonus.”
Halep cut up together with her longtime coach Darren Cahill on the finish of final season, however she projected a lot of the readability he instilled in her recreation — maybe as a result of the 2 are nonetheless in shut contact. Cahill, additionally an analyst for ESPN, the American rights holder for the match, was on her courtroom throughout pretournament practices.
“It’s great to have him around,” she mentioned. “Also it’s tough that he’s not in my team anymore. I don’t know what I’m going to do. For sure, I need a coach, because at this level you cannot do it alone. I’m just chilling for the moment, and we will see after this tournament.”
Because of Halep’s slide, and the even distribution of titles across the high tier of the tour, 9 girls can depart Melbourne with the No. 1 rating on the match’s finish. Halep, who completed the final two seasons on the high, mentioned retaining the spot was not within the entrance of her thoughts.
“The ranking doesn’t matter anymore,” she mentioned. “I play tennis because I like it. Now my challenge is to win every match I play. I know it’s probably impossible, but I’m trying just to stay with this thought, and give it my best.”