Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 June 2019

Dubai Tennis: Simona Halep urges Naomi Osaka not to worry about one bad result

Romanian backs world No 1 to bounce back from Dubai exit, saying 'it's normal to have a little bit of letdown'

Naomi Osaka was beaten by Kristina Mladenovic in the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday. Kamran Jebreil / AP Photo
Naomi Osaka was beaten by Kristina Mladenovic in the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday. Kamran Jebreil / AP Photo

Simona Halep has backed Naomi Osaka to bounce back from her poor start to life as world No 1.

Halep had held the top spot in the WTA rankings for 48 weeks until Osaka took it from her at the end of January after winning the Australian Open.

But the Japanese player lost her first match as No 1 at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday, losing 6-3, 6-3 to Katerina Mladenovic, and then conceded she was struggling to get used to her new status in the women's game.

But Halep, 27, who reached the Dubai quarter-finals on Wednesday with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Lesia Tsurenko, said that the Japanese player should not be too worried by one bad result.

"It's normal," the Romanian said. "She didn't play since Melbourne. She won that title, very big title. It's normal to have a little bit of letdown maybe.

"But she will come back stronger. If she lost one match, doesn't mean that she lost everything. She has to relax."

Halep believed that Osaka's meteoric rise to the top had perhaps meant that she had been unprepared for the extra pressures of being at the top.

Osaka had started 2018 at No 68 in the rankings, but winning the Indian Wells Masters, the US Open and then triumphing in Melbourne had seen her surge up the order to take top spot.

Simona Halep beat a formidable Lesia Tsurenko in their third-round match at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Wednesday. Ali Haider / EPA
Simona Halep beat a formidable Lesia Tsurenko in their third-round match at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Wednesday. Ali Haider / EPA

Halep's path to the top was rather different. She first broke into the top 10 in 2014 and had to wait until October 2017 for her first run as No 1.

"I didn't feel very weird when I went to No 1 seed," she said when asked if she could empathise with Osaka's situation. "I didn't have this pressure.

"Also I've been there for four years before, so No 2, No 3. She's different because she came last year from around 70, if I remember well. Maybe it's different."

Halep revealed that where she felt stress was from the Romanian media, who had followed her career as she looked to be her country's first major winner since 1978.

She finally ended that wait at the French Open in 2018, and she said: "Nobody has or had what I had in Romania. Trust me that I am strong, that I could resist that.

"But when I'm going to the tournaments, even if I'm No 1, No 5, I treat the same. You can lose any time. You can win any match. I'm going with that mentality.

“If I lose, let's say, an easy match, even if at this level you don't have easy matches, I don't make a drama. I want to shake it off fast, then start the new day tomorrow."

Halep remains on track for a second Dubai title after overcoming a fightback from Tsurenko in the second set on Wednesday.

The 2015 champion was twice a break down before she won the final three games to seal her second successive straight sets victory, having defeated Eugenie Bouchard on Tuesday.

Ominously for the rest of the players remaining in the draw Halep believes she is in promising form as she bids for a first tournament title since the Montreal Masters in August.

"I feel good on court," she said. I feel that my game is pretty strong, also physically, even if I'm tired a little bit. Yeah, I feel close to my highest level."

She will face either No 8 seed Aryna Sabalenka or Belinda Bencic on Thursday for a place in the semi-finals.

Updated: February 20, 2019 05:24 PM

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