The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix has kicked off the WTA’s clay court season for over a decade. More importantly to No. 2 seed Simona Halep, the 500-level event is among the few on the surface she has yet to win—having already triumphed in Madrid, Rome, and Roland Garros.
“I want this badly,” the world No. 3 jokes at the end of her pre-tournament press conference. “It’s a nice tournament, nice conditions, and the people are really nice to me here. It’s absolutely one of my goals to win here, as well.
“I want to win all the clay court tournaments, if possible.”
Halep won two tournaments and 13 straight matches on the surface after the WTA lockdown ended last fall, only to take a surprising defeat to eventual champion Iga Swiatek in the fourth round of the French Open.
Twice a semifinalist in Stuttgart, the 29-year-old notes a combination of the tournament’s tricky indoor conditions and thunderdome-like field that have typically kept her from driving away with the prized Porsche.
This year will be no different, and Halep smiles at the prospect of opening against either 2019 French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova or Marie Bouzkova, who was a runner-up at the Phillip Island Trophy in Melbourne.
“I’ve played good matches and beaten good players here. So, I can’t say I don’t like it because I do, but it’s just a little bit tougher to win the tournament.”
Compounding the difficulty could be Halep’s own health after a shoulder injury forced her out of the Miami Open following her opening round against Caroline Garcia.
“I had more than two weeks of break and had some treatment on my shoulder,” she assures. “I feel much better now and haven’t had pain in the last few days that I’ve practiced, both home and here. I feel fit, and hopefully I can stay like that during the matches, as well, because matches are different than practices.”
Practices have been made all the more comfortable with the help of longtime coach Darren Cahill who is, per Halep, “stuck” with the former world No. 1 for the duration of the clay court swing thanks to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
“Having him with me means a lot, because I have confidence when he’s around. We’re having great days.”
Halep shared photos of herself and Cahill hard at work on Instagram, aiming to maximize a comparatively quieter social media presence while keeping fans up to date at a time when the pandemic prevents them from cheering her on in person.
“I don’t post much but I am on social media and I follow all the messages I get and all of the posts my fans make for me. It was nice to keep a connection with them because it’s been a while since we’ve seen a lot of fans in the crowd. I felt sad about that but it’s good that we have this communication line, even when we’re far from each other.”
In the absence of the inimitable “SI-MO-NA!” cheers, Halep has her beloved clay to ground her in Stuttgart. Even as questions about her more recent Wimbledon win continue to pepper her press conferences, the former French Open champion was more concerned with the how the postponed Roland Garros start would allow her an extra week of preparation, and appears uniquely focused on another run in Paris.
“I’m probably the most excited player at this time of year! I’ve always felt great on clay, and I can’t say I do anything special. I just feel natural on this surface and I trust. I have confidence, so that’s why I’ve probably had good results in the past.”