Yanina Wickmayer has Sunday’s shot of the day at the Brisbane International.
BRISBANE, Australia – If Simona Halep has her way, get ready to see a more relaxed Romanian in 2016. The World No.2 has a new outlook on her life and career to go along with a coach who’s more than game to guide her through it.
“I can say I feel stronger mentally because I’m more relaxed,” Halep told WTA Insider on Monday at the Brisbane International. “Now I feel stronger, I feel more relaxed. I feel I have the game, a good game to start the year.
“I improved a lot in the off-season. I worked hard. Now I’m looking forward to start this tournament, to start this year and see if I can stay in the Top 5 again and see if I can do good results at the Grand Slams because I [didn’t] at two of them last year and I [regret that].”
To assist in her cause is her new full-time coach Darren Cahill. The veteran Australian coach worked part-time with Halep last season but was still under contract with Adidas as part of the company’s Player Development Program. Under the program, Cahill offered his coaching assistance to Adidas players. But there was a catch. If two Adidas players faced off Cahill couldn’t offer coaching advice to either player. That proved problematic at the US Open, where Halep lost to fellow Adidas-wearer Flavia Pennetta in the semifinals.
“I can say that was a little bit difficult also in US Open because he couldn’t show up for Pennetta’s match,” she said. “I knew that and accepted before, so it was okay.”
But with the Adidas program shutting down at the end of last season, Halep was quick to get Cahill on her team. She announced the hire shortly after the season ended and Cahill flew to Bucharest for a three-week off-season training session.
Don't forget to bring the balls for practice @Simona_Halep. I booked the court ? #romania ☃? #beautifulhere pic.twitter.com/Xitc43hUOi
— Darren Cahill (@darren_cahill) November 24, 2015
“Now he’s mine, only mine,” she said with a laugh. “No more players around. It’s good. It’s a good feeling… It’s good to have him close to me and to learn things from him.”
The two have been working to improve all facets of her game with particular focus on her serve and strength. But aside from techniques and tactics, Halep credits Cahill with her new outlook on life. The 24-year-old broke through with six titles in 2013 to finish that season at No.11. She backed it up by making her first Slam final at the French Open in 2014 and finished at No.3. Last year, in a season that she admits wasn’t her best, she still managed to do one better and finish at career-best No.2. The winning has been fun. The tension? Not so much.
“I was too tight and I was very focused just for tennis,” Halep said. “I think if I’m more relaxed I can play better tennis.” To keep things loose Halep has gone out of her way to break old habits. Even if it means a little body surfing.
“Yesterday I went with Darren and my team to Surfer’s Paradise,” she said. “It was the first time in my life that I went out of the tournament to go enjoy something.”
Learning to let go may be precisely what Halep needs to make her Grand Slam breakthrough. She has played well in Australia in the past, making the semifinals as a junior and now back-to-back quarterfinals. She says the court suits her game.
“I feel good in Australia,” she said with a smile. “Now I’m part of Aussie, no? Because I have an Australian coach.”
Hope you're having a good day @Simona_Halep ? #andreicociasu @CercelT #andreicristofor #badsign ? pic.twitter.com/oKJZy5HPWv — Darren Cahill (@darren_cahill) December 13, 2015
Despite that Aussie comfort, nerves have been her undoing here the last two years. Having now established herself as part of the game’s best, Halep hopes to craft her breakthrough by retreating. Looking back at her tennis career, Halep highlighted her tendency for an adjustment period. Maybe the solution is to stop pressing. “Since I was a kid I didn’t do the results straight away,” she said. “It was difficult for me in juniors to change everything to go to the [senior] tournaments. I was not very young when I did my best results in the WTA. I was 21, 22. I feel like I have enough time. Many players are winning Grand Slams at 30, 31, 32. It’s not a big deal if you win now or [later].” “Now I met Darren and he made me more relaxed, that I have enough time in this life to win titles, to win Grand Slams maybe. I have to enjoy the life. I know the time goes very fast. “Life is too short and we just have to be happy and to do everything we could in that day to give 100 percent what we have.” Halep is set to play former No.1 Victoria Azarenka in her first match of the season, a rematch of their tightly contested US Open quarterfinal from a few months ago. It’s a brutal draw for both women as they shake off the off-season rust and ready themselves for a run at the Australian Open.
Hope you're having a good day @Simona_Halep ? #andreicociasu @CercelT #andreicristofor #badsign ? pic.twitter.com/oKJZy5HPWv
— Darren Cahill (@darren_cahill) December 13, 2015
Despite that Aussie comfort, nerves have been her undoing here the last two years. Having now established herself as part of the game’s best, Halep hopes to craft her breakthrough by retreating. Looking back at her tennis career, Halep highlighted her tendency for an adjustment period. Maybe the solution is to stop pressing.
“Since I was a kid I didn’t do the results straight away,” she said. “It was difficult for me in juniors to change everything to go to the [senior] tournaments. I was not very young when I did my best results in the WTA. I was 21, 22. I feel like I have enough time. Many players are winning Grand Slams at 30, 31, 32. It’s not a big deal if you win now or [later].”
“Now I met Darren and he made me more relaxed, that I have enough time in this life to win titles, to win Grand Slams maybe. I have to enjoy the life. I know the time goes very fast.
“Life is too short and we just have to be happy and to do everything we could in that day to give 100 percent what we have.”
Halep is set to play former No.1 Victoria Azarenka in her first match of the season, a rematch of their tightly contested US Open quarterfinal from a few months ago. It’s a brutal draw for both women as they shake off the off-season rust and ready themselves for a run at the Australian Open.
BRISBANE, Australia – Simona Halep met the press at All Access Hour at the Brisbane International on Monday, and one of the hot topics was her potential opening match against Victoria Azarenka.
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A few hours later, Azarenka turned potential into reality with an impressive win over Elena Vesnina.
“It’s very tough,” Halep told reporters. “I think it will be a nice match. It will be very hard. It will be a big challenge for me. I played against her at the US Open, so I’m looking forward to playing against her again in Brisbane to see how well I can play in that match, in my first match of the new year.
“I’m looking forward to starting this year. I know it won’t be easy, though, because the first match of the year is always difficult mentally as well as physically, and I haven’t played since Singapore.”
That US Open match, a quarterfinal, was one of the matches of the tournament, with both WTA stars littering the stats sheet with winners – Halep finished with a beefy 40 winners to 19 unforced errors.
The Romanian eventually rallied from 2-0 in the third set to edge the Belarusian, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.
“I remember that the rain helped me – I cannot forget that,” Halep recalled, referring to a rain delay as she served at 1-2, 40-15 in the third set. “It was a good point that the rain came and we stopped the match, because I was getting too nervous in the third set and I couldn’t manage the emotions.
“But she’s very strong. She’s hitting the ball strong. And she doesn’t give up. I have some good experience against her. She beat me in the past, and I beat her, so it’s good timing to play again.
“I need strong matches and strong opponents to be ready for the Grand Slams.”
Speaking of strong opponents, Halep was also asked about her chief rival – Serena Williams – who is competing in Hopman Cup this week. The World No.1 had to withdraw from her first match, however.
“I didn’t know she withdrew,” Halep said. “But, you know, she’s strong. I know that she can come and play good tennis as always. She’s prepared for that. She has the experience and knows how to manage all the situations. She’s the best player in the world. I just have to relax when I play her.
“But I believe players from the Top 10 can beat her. Many players are playing really good tennis right now. Muguruza as well, and I think I can say Bouchard will come back because she has the game, and she knows how to play in the top, because she was there. So it will be an interesting year, I think.”
Halep and Azarenka are scheduled to play their second round match in Brisbane on Wednesday.
Azarenka leads Halep in their overall head-to-head, 2-1, and is looking forward to the duel too.
“I think it’s going to be a very good test for me,” the former World No.1 said. “In general playing against top players, you always put yourself in a situation where you have got to push yourself.
“To be the best you’ve got to beat the best, so I’m looking forward to that match.”
BRISBANE, Australia – Victoria Azarenka wasted little time getting her 2016 season up and running with a brisk win over Elena Vesnina in the first round of the Brisbane International.
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In a merciless display, former champion Azarenka broke six times to wrap up a 6-2, 6-0 win and set up an intriguing second round meeting with top seed Simona Halep.
The previous meeting between the two came at last year’s US Open. On that occasion Halep came out on top in three thrilling sets and she is expecting another stern examination from the former World No.1
“Very tough. Yeah, I’m looking forward to start this year. I’m excited. I know that that’s not easy, because every time the first match of the year is difficult mentally as well and physically,” Halep said.
“It will be a nice match I think. Will be very hard and a big challenge for me. Again, I played against her in US Open, so I’m looking forward to play against her and to see how good I can play in the first match of the year.”
Vesnina, who had to come through three rounds of qualifying to secure her first round berth, started brightly enough, a couple of smart winners helping her break to love in the second game. This, however, would be the last time she troubled the scoreboard.
She was not able to hang onto this lead for long, Azarenka flicking an angled backhand to hit back immediately. From this point she moved through the gears effortlessly, barely putting a foot wrong over the next hour, threading one final backhand past Vesnina to add the final flourish to a near immaculate display.
The statistics as well as the scoreline made pleasant reading, the Belarusian complementing an impressive serving display – she struck four aces and a healthy 74% first serve percentage – with a typically polished display from the baseline, producing 22 winners and just seven unforced errors.
“I was happy to be on the court. It’s been a while since I’ve been out there playing an actual match. It’s been a lot of practice, so I was just happy to go out there and play and be in front of the crowd and just compete,” Azarenka said. “So I was happy to be able to do that and play well.”
AUCKLAND, New Zealand – Sloane Stephens made a confident start to both the season and her latest coaching partnership with a straight set victory over Polona Hercog.
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It was not all plain sailing for Stephens, who frittered away early leads in both sets before eventually prevailing, 6-3, 6-3.
“I think I was just trying to make it harder in myself! But it was good practice, so that’s good,” she said in her on-court interview.
However, the No.5 seed admits she and new coach Kamau Murray still have plenty to work on ahead of the upcoming Australian Open.
“I think the main thing we should focus on is that I won today and anything else will just wait for another day,” she added.
Stephens’ next outing will come on Wednesday when she takes on Carina Witthoeft, a 6-2, 7-6(3) winner in her all-German clash with Tatjana Maria.
Also advancing at the ASB Tennis Centre was Svetlana Kuznetsova, whose opening outing of the new season was cut short after just 49 minutes when her opponent, Mona Barthel, retired through injury. No.4 seed Kuznetsova, who was leading 6-2, 1-1 at the time, will face either Francesca Schiavone or qualifier Tamira Paszek in the second round.