‘Chilled out’ Halep reaps ben­e­fits of new mind­set

Hit­ting part­ner re­veals cham­pion’s pos­i­tiv­ity Konta de­feat in 2017 was the ma­jor turn­ing point

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Wimbledon - By Si­mon Briggs at Wimbledon

When Si­mona Halep won last year’s French Open, hav­ing suf­fered de­feats in her first three ma­jor fi­nals, Martina Navratilov­a quipped: “It wasn’t a mon­key off her back; this was an 800lb go­rilla.”

So when Halep won her sec­ond slam ti­tle against Ser­ena Wil­liams on Satur­day – pro­duc­ing the clean­est per­for­mance, in terms of un­forced er­rors, by a Wimbledon cham­pion since the Seven­ties – there was a very dif­fer­ent feel­ing. As with Andy Mur­ray’s sec­ond Wimbledon ti­tle in 2016, this was about en­joy­ment and sat­is­fac­tion, rather than the lift­ing of a life­long bur­den.

The ten­nis world re­acted with de­light, re­flect­ing that Halep – who thus became the first Ro­ma­nian to win here – is one of the most gen­uine peo­ple on the tour.

You only have to ask her hit­ting part­ner, 19-year-old Tom Thel­wal­ljones. “The Satur­day be­fore the Cham­pi­onships started I was des­ig­nated to hit with Si­mona on a Cham­pi­onship Court and then she re­quested me back,” said Thel­wal­ljones, a Welsh­man who is now on an Amer­i­can col­lege schol­ar­ship at the University of Tulsa.

“I’ve hit with her 10, 11 days in a row now. So it’s been pretty cool. She’s amaz­ing. She got me tick­ets to both the semi-fi­nal and the fi­nal.

“Her on-court interview re­ally showed off who she is. She’s very chilled out. I thought that po­ten­tially she’d get up­tight, ner­vous, but she was just the same through­out – very nice, the whole team are very nice.

“I got the text from her trainer to say, ‘If I don’t see you tomorrow then I’ll see you next year,’ so we’ll see. It was an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence and I’m so happy that she won and the style she did it in was amaz­ing.”

That sense of “chill” – a word Halep has ref­er­enced re­peat­edly dur­ing her tour­na­ment – was not al­ways part of her reper­toire.

De­spite her many qual­i­ties as a ball-striker and an ath­lete, she used to be held back by her own innate per­fec­tion­ism.

The clas­sic in­stance came two years ago in Mi­ami in a match that found her lead­ing Jo­hanna Konta by a set and a break. De­spite Halep’s com­mand­ing po­si­tion, she became in­creas­ingly ratty, call­ing her then coach Dar­ren Cahill on to the court and pro­ceed­ing to re­ject all his up­beat ob­ser­va­tions with sar­cas­tic re­join­ders. Af­ter she had ca­pit­u­lated to a two-sets-to-one de­feat, Cahill re­sponded by walk­ing out on her for a few weeks, un­til she agreed that her at­ti­tude was a prob­lem.

“I was too neg­a­tive,” said Halep on Satur­day night. “I could not see the things I was do­ing great. Once you start think­ing like that, you start to go fur­ther down men­tally. I ac­cepted I am like that and I don’t have to make big changes, just un­der­stand what is go­ing wrong dur­ing those mo­ments.

“I felt a bit lost when he [Cahill] told me we were go­ing to split, but I was also con­fi­dent. I knew if I put into prac­tice what he had told me dur­ing the three or four years when we were to­gether, I had a bet­ter chance.

“We split but we are still talk­ing and he is my friend who is by my side all the time. He still gives me ad­vice, but friendly ad­vice. Let’s hope this re­sult will bring him back.”

Halep’s ap­proach has changed again since her break­through at Roland Gar­ros last year. Hav­ing won her first grand-slam, she de­cided that she was go­ing to en­joy her­self last win­ter, rather than sub­mit­ting to the usual drudgery of the off­sea­son training block. “I en­joyed life,” she said.

“I went out, spent time with friends and went on hol­i­days. I switched off ten­nis for about two months be­cause I felt ex­hausted, and I was in­jured as well.”

The lack of court time ahead of the Aus­tralian swing prob­a­bly played a role in Halep ar­riv­ing at Wimbledon with­out a sin­gle ti­tle to her name this year.

But she would surely have traded those early strug­gles for the prize her mother Ta­nia has been ex­hort­ing her to win since the age of 10.

“I wanted to do it for her,” said Halep. “I al­ways dreamt of be­ing able to play in a fi­nal here, but I never thought I would ac­tu­ally be able to do it.”

So what of Halep’s de­feated op­po­nent Wil­liams? The pre-match favourite came out cold on Satur­day, spray­ing around the ball in the first four games, which can only have helped Halep to es­tab­lish such a smooth rhythm.

But Wil­liams will be back. “Maybe play­ing other fi­nals out­side of grand-slams would be help­ful,” she said, af­ter her third run­ner-up fin­ish at a ma­jor in the past 12 months.

“I’m en­tered in Toronto and Cincin­nati. My knee feels great, so I’m re­ally ex­cited to test it out and keep go­ing.”

Proud: Si­mona Halep shows off her tro­phy on steps of the All Eng­land Club

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