Simona Halep Steadily Gaining Composure Ahead of US Open

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The release of the singles draw at the US Open has thrown open the gates of permutations, combinations, and probabilities about the tournament’s eventual champions. Among the men, defending champion Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic seem to be the front-runners to lift the title. Among the women though, no clear picture that has emerged. But for the first time in a long time, there is no chaos and there is no frenzy about who will prevail at the end of the tournament on the second Saturday.

Simona Halep, then, finds herself at the centre of this unexpected quiet vis-à-vis the US Open.

The world No. 1 is heading into the last Major of the year in vastly different circumstances as she began the season, with the weight of expectations threatening to overwhelm her. The weeks leading up to the US Open campaign were fruitful for Halep, who braved inclement weather and equally inclement scheduling in both Montreal and Cincinnati to make to the final in each tournament. She ended up winning in Montreal, but missed out in Cincinnati by a whisker, after Kiki Bertens saved a match point in the second set tie-break before clinching the title after decisively winning the third set – before withdrawing from New Haven with an injury to her achilles tendon.

The withdrawal did raise wariness about whether Halep would pay the price for her audacious intensity across the fortnight spanning Montreal and Cincinnati at the US Open, with her form deserting her. But this is also where advantageousness looms large for Halep.

For one, she doesn’t have the pressure of defending too many points–it’s perhaps the only good thing coming out of her first round loss to Maria Sharapova in 2017. In addition, thanks to her consistent results spanning the season until now, she will not need to look over her shoulders to check if any of her rival stands to displace her as the world No. 1.

To that end, then, the only person seemingly racing against her is Halep herself.

However, to say so would be overlooking and contradicting the efforts and commitment shown by Halep to transform herself into a competitor constantly trying to better herself week-after-week, instead of just vying for more titles.

Back when Halep struggled with her performance in the finals of Majors – three of them–a word that kept circulating about was “self-belief.” Her lack thereof was perceived to be the sole reason which prevented her from winning a Major thereby, from realising her potential.

These days–specifically, since mid-2018–Halep has ensured that her “self-belief” comes out in droves when playing any tournament, leaving even the most mentally confident rival unsure about whether there would be any vulnerability presented so as to be exploited. More importantly, Halep has managed to convert “self-belief” into composure so strong that it puts her in a winnable position, regardless of how lopsided the scoreline may be against her.

Darren Cahill’s contribution, then, is an unmistakable factor in helping push Halep out of her comfort zone to the current status quo. Yet, as much as the coach has been inspiring the protege has been no less inspirational, for it’s been the protégé’s willingness to change which has seen her reap myriad rewards, one after another in quick succession.

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