Romanian says winning the French Open has shifted her mentality and now she is 'relaxed' as the best female player in the world
Simona Halep finally feels like a 'real No 1' ahead of US Open
Simona Halep has said ending her wait for a grand slam title made her feel like a “real No 1” and she is now comfortable as the top-ranked player in women’s tennis heading into the US Open.
Halep, 26, won the French Open in June after suffering defeat in her three previous grand slam finals. The Romanian’s success in Paris was reward for her consistency this season during which she has made the No 1 ranking her own.
Since reclaiming top spot in February, Halep has raced into a comfortable position and currently leads second-ranked Caroline Wozniacki by more than 2,000 points. This is in stark contrast to last season when top-spot was held by five different players.
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In the build-up to the US Open, Halep revealed that she was not entirely comfortable at the top of the rankings, but claiming the title at Roland Garros as shifted her mentality. Now, she arrives at Flushing Meadows embracing her status.
"I don't feel the pressure," said Halep, who plays Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi in the first round in New York. "Inside myself something changed. I'm more relaxed.
“These two were my dreams - to be No 1 in the world and to win a grand slam. Always I say No 1 in the world without a grand slam, you are not a real No 1.
"After the French Open, I really started to believe that I'm a real No 1."
Despite losing in the first round last year, Halep has talked up her US Open chances – a sign of her newfound self-belief as well as her fine form that includes the Montreal Open title and a run to the final in Cincinnati.
"I can say I have a big chance for this tournament, but it's tough to say that I'm the favorite even if I'm No 1," she said. "Everyone is playing at maybe the highest level. Every match, every round is difficult.
"I'm just looking forward to playing my first one. If I win it, I will focus on the next one, just like that."
It's a tried and true approach, and a perhaps a wise one for a player who could come up against 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams in the fourth round.
If she makes it, the semi-finals could produce a third clash of 2018 with defending US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
The two have proved compelling rivals, with Halep getting the better of the American in the Roland Garros final and again in a rollercoaster final in Montreal two weeks ago.
But Stephens is reluctant to call it a "rivalry," noting that "it's not a rivalry if you don't beat the person".
"Eventually, I'm going to get her," Stephens insisted. "Hopefully, it will be soon."