Romanian tennis player Simona Halep is being bathed in the light of the Dubai Garden Glow. She wanders past giant ants, dinosaurs and tulips, but it’s the lions that have her hooked. “We don’t have things like this back home,” she says.
It’s about time Halep treated herself to a bit of sparkle. It has been a tough year for the top seed, who has experienced problems with her nose during recent tournaments.
“The last twelve months have been difficult for me,” she says. “Every match is difficult at this level but I feel much better now.”
But she’s back in a big way, postponing her surgery to defend her title in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships this week.
It was odd to see the world number three off-court. Usually dressed in fluro Adidas and full of energy, Halep was remarkably relaxed in jeans and a t-shirt, her hair loose at her shoulders.
She was ready for a giggle as she stood in front of the twelve-metre-high Burj Khalifa made from recycled medicine bottles.
“Last year they had me and the crew on a camel. This year the Dubai Garden Glow is a little more relaxed. It’s much better. Maybe next year I’ll get to go shopping. It gets me more relaxed.”
She walks past a giant flamingo and stops briefly to let the camera crew from Dubai Duty Free grab a few takes.
“I played my best tennis at the Championship last year,” she said. “It was a tough match against Karolina Pliskova and I was so happy to win it. Lifting up that trophy was so special.”
Halep continues talking but can’t be heard over the call to prayer.
It stops and she starts to giggle: “And that’s why this place is special because everything is different — the people are unique, the culture is amazing and there is so much to do.”
Simona Halep — fast facts
Born: September 27, 1991, in Constanta, Romania
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand); she turned pro in 2006
Dubai Tennis Championships Women’s Singles titles: 2015 (beating Karolina Pliskova).
Coach: Darren Cahill
Visit Dubai Garden Glow
Location: Gate 6, Zabeel Park. Follow signs for the Zabeel Ladies’ Club
Cost: Dh60. Free entry for children under three and disabled guests
Opening Hours: 4pm to 11pm
For more information visit dubaigardenglow.com
— Charlotte Moore is an intern with Gulf News.