WATCH: Halep easily dispatched countrywoman Elena-Gabriela Ruse in just over an hour in Cluj-Napoca.

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Simona Halep will finish outside the Top 8 in the WTA Race for the first time since 2013, and though a mid-season calf injury all but ended her chances to qualify for the Finals in Guadalajara, the former world No. 1 is already eyeing a 2022 renaissance with the help of a full slate of fall tournaments.

“I just wanted to get the feeling back from playing official matches,” she said of the decision to play Moscow, Cluj-Napoca, and Linz after the BNP Paribas Open. “I didn’t play much this year, and I really wanted to get that feeling back, and the confidence, as well. These are the only goals.”

Halep looked to be a major contender at the start of the clay-court season, but a freak injury at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia forced her out of Roland Garros and Wimbledon—where she was the defending champion—and essentially ended her 373-week stint inside the Top 10.

Since returning to action in Canada to play the Omnium Banque Nationale, the Romanian has slowly worked her way into form, shaking off an early exit in Indian Wells to reach the Kremlin Cup quarterfinals and play one of her most dominant matches of the season against Elena-Gabriela Ruse on Wednesday, overcoming her countrywoman, 6-1, 6-2.

I never said I would stop playing after the wedding party! I’m still motivated and still love tennis. My husband is next to me all the time, and I’m happy to stay on court, and play matches. Simona Halep

“I’m improving, day by day,” she said of the 73-minute win at her home tournament. “I feel more confident during the tournaments and matches. I think I’m starting to feel my best game again.

“Of course, it’s never easy after a long period without playing matches. Now, I’m focused only on what I feel today, and I feel good. The injuries are in the past, so I’m trying to take positives from every match.”

Halep’s lost year wasn’t without its personal highlights: the 30-year-old married longtime partner Toni Iuruc after the US Open, leading some to speculate how soon she might wind down her playing career to start a family.

Rumors of her retirement, Halep insists, are greatly exaggerated.

“Many people were talking about that, but I never said I would stop playing after the wedding party. I’m still motivated and still love tennis. My husband is next to me all the time, and I’m happy to stay on court, and play matches.”

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Those matches are playing out in a field that has radically changed since she finished the 2020 season ranked No. 2, and will likely feature seven new faces in the Top 10 by the year’s end. Halep credits the seismic shift to the lockdown that reshuffled the proverbial deck.

“I think the pandemic changed tennis. Some of the older players may not have managed the lockdown very well. The younger ones got opportunities, maybe worked a little harder and just grew in confidence to win some incredible matches. The players in the Top 10 right now deserves it because they’ve played really well and earned the results. All credit to them.”

More important to Halep than ranking or title count is her love of the game, something that was very much on display against Ruse as she thrilled viewers with a vintage performance.

“When I have the chance to do something like this, I do because I love these shots. Today, there were some great ones, so I was happy about them.”

The top seed will next play Varvara Gracheva for a place in last eight.