She is one and a half meters behind the line, and the rallies repeat themselves with the same pattern. Simona Halep puts a lot of intensity into her shots. She is trying to gain ground. Her frame partner Arnaud Restifo prevents her from doing so with long, covered shots that go as deep as possible. At the smallest opening, Halep goes to the net in one or two steps.
At the back walks Patrick Mouratoglou with his chest raised. He does not miss a beat and suggests a correction from time to time. We are on the center court of the Mouratoglou Academy, six weeks away from the French Open, and the mission has already begun for Halep, winning in Paris in 2018 and determined to return to the ranks of the world’s best tennis players.
The Romanian saved her first words after the announcement of her affiliation with Mouratoglou on Thursday for Tennis Majors. She is betting heavily on this structural change with a dual goal: titles and developments in her game.
“I asked to work with Patrick because I really want to go back to the top and I felt he was the best person to help me do it. I was lucky that he was actually available to do it. “I want to go back to the top, and of course I dream of another Grand Slam, because that’s why I work every day.”
Halep: ‘Playing with the big hits is not easy’
Halep knows she has one of the best attacking / defensive balances on the tour, making her a great clay court player. But now in her thirties, and as the hard-hitting Iga Swiatek has just taken over as the world’s best female tennis player, she will now be “a little more aggressive” on the court.
“I want to take the ball earlier. I want to open the pitch much better than I did before. I’m not saying I had a bad match before, but I want to make it stronger.”
“I also want to get stronger in the body, because it is not easy to be offensive and be close to baseline, to play with the big hitters. So you have to be strong on the body. I want to work on it, but also to open the court to use some angles a little better than before and actually take the ball early. So that is the goal of our vision. ”
A champion at Roland-Garros and Wimbledon, Halep has “no limits” in her ambition, as her coach puts it. “No. 1 spot is pretty special, but the Grand Slam, I feel is more special,” said Halep, who rose to the top between 2017 and 2019.
‘A hard court Slam would be nice!’
It does not take many questions to realize that a Grand Slam career, with at least one title at the Australian Open and US Open, is a driving force behind her revival. But her response shows that she still sees herself as a clay court specialist who has to convince herself of her legitimacy on fast surfaces.
“I love clay,” says Halep, “so that’s why I was probably able to win many tournaments on clay [seven out of her 23 wins, including two in Madrid and one in Rome] and also the French Open [in 2018]. I won Wimbledon [in 2019], which I never expected because it’s super fast and you need the serving. So I do not have a large serving there. But my game was really good that year and it was just perfect to the surface and I was very confident. “
“I have won hard court tournaments, including big tournaments [ten tournament titles on hard, including two in Canada and one Indian Wells], but I could not win a Grand Slam yet, so I probably have to do something extra to win a Grand Slam there, and that’s why I’m working with Patrick now. Maybe he can help me win a Grand Slam on hard court. It would be super, super nice to have it in my career too. ”
Halep has changed almost everything about himself to further his quest. She had never set foot in an academy when Darren Cahill, her former coach and friend, recommended her stay at Mouratoglou Academy. One and a half months after her first arrival, she moved to the Riviera and rebuilt her team around the French set-up.
“My team consists of Virginia Ruzici, my manager for 16 years, Arnaud Restifo, my teammate, my physical trainer Teo Cercel. I would like to add a physiotherapist to the team. Maybe he or she comes from the academy. ”
‘2021 was the worst year ever’ (Halep)
Halep hopes to be in full physical strength at the Madrid tournament, from April 26 to May 8, after advancing to the semifinals of Indian Wells with various physical problems, the same ones that prevented her from playing in Miami the following week. . One of these muscle problems was not completely resolved when she picked up her racket again. Halep feels at his best, but admits that the 2022 season so far has been quite encouraging in light of a 2021 campaign marked by a torn left calf and heavy personal problems. “Worst year ever,” she sighs.
“My confidence was very low before Australia,” said Halep, who has played 19 matches and won 15 so far in 2022. “And then I played the few matches in the Aussie Open, and then I won some good matches, with Jabeur (in Dubai), the first top ten player I played this year.And I feel like I’m doing fine now, my confidence is getting higher.And I also need some more training hours on the pitch and then I’ll probably feel a lot better . ”
Iga Swiatek’s three titles in Doha, Indian Wells and Miami mean there will be no power vacuum at the top of the WTA after Ash Barty’s surprising retirement. “I think there will be no one like Serena to dominate the WTA Tour,” Halep replied. “I feel it is very open and I have always said this that everyone can win a tournament she plays so you never know who will be the winner. The top 10 are super open. ”
He has a few words that he tells you and you understand perfectly what to do.
Simona Halep and Patrick Mouratoglou
While Halep does not see herself as the new Serena, she notes that “Patrick made Serena better than she was before” and that “it has put him in the top row of coaches”.
“I did not really know him until this year,” she says. “We never talked and I did not have a sense of how he is, but I saw that he has a strong personality and he is quite tough as a coach. So I thought he was a good match for me, and that’s why I’m here.
“He’s easy to talk to. We know each other pretty well already, which is a big step for me because I’m not very open to everyone, I’m a very introverted person. So he made me open and I think “It’s a good thing for our relationship on the pitch. His simplicity is super heavy, super strong. He has a few words, he tells you and you understand perfectly what to do.”
Mouratoglou has trained Serena for ten of her 23 Grand Slams – and she was over 30 for each of them. Halep turned 30 last year.