Romania's Simona Halep
Romania's Simona Halep hits a forehand return to Estonia's Kaia Kanepi during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, JanUARY 15, 2019. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: World No. 1 Simona Halep admits to be being more ‘relaxed’ after winning her maiden grand slam last year as she makes a return to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships for the first time in three years in February.

The Dubai Duty Free WTA Player Ambassador heads an incredible field that includes all but one of the top 10 as she seeks to regain the title she last claimed in 2015.

“We are thrilled to welcome back Simona Halep to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice-Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “It has been fascinating to watch her reach new heights since she was here in 2016, and we are sure that she will continue to be a major force in the game for many years to come,” he said.

When Halep won the French Open last year, it must have been a heavy weight lifted off her shoulders. She had failed there twice before after reaching the final and just months before, she had left Melbourne empty-handed after losing the title match to Caroline Wozniacki.

Finally, though, she triumphed with a hard-fought win over Sloane Stephens, doing it the hard way by battling her way back from a set down.

“I dedicated myself 100%, so many years,” Halep said in an interview with The Guardian. “Now I’ve won a Grand Slam and I start to enjoy life more. I like to go out, make friendships. I’m more open. Before I won the French I was very focused. Everything I had dreamed was real in that moment. All the people I love were there and when I lift the trophy, and the national song is played, it was the best moment I ever had. I was crying because it was huge. Maybe it will be my best moment as an athlete. But let’s see. Maybe the future will give me even more.”

Now the breakthrough has been made, there is no reason to doubt that more Grand Slam titles will follow. However, at least for a few months this season, Halep faces a new challenge after her coach, Darren Cahill, chose to spend time with his family. She still talks with him regularly but is trying to get through tournaments with no-one by her side.

“The situation is that for the next three to four months, I don’t want to take the coach,” Halep said. “I just go with the flow and I’ll see how it works, kind of, alone. Actually, it’s tough a little bit, but I feel confident that I can do my own things on court. I’m more responsible now on everything that I have to do. Maybe it’s a good thing, I will see.

“I just want to chill. I had enough tension during these years. Now I feel like I don’t want to commit to anyone because when you take a coach you have to commit to that person and you want to do the best for him and the team.”

Among those competing alongside Halep for the title will be fellow 2018 Grand Slam winners Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka as well as two-time Dubai champion Elina Svitolina, double Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova and former Grand Slam champions Garbine Muguruza and Jelena Ostapenko.

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