Simona Halep, a point by point champion
How Simona Halep found the balance she needed to shine on the court.
A smiling Simona Halep entered the Armeec Arena in Sofia for the last final of 2013. It was early November and she was playing in the WTA Tournament of Champions opposite Samantha Stosur, whom she had defeated two weeks before, in Moscow. It had been the best year of her career, during which she had won the first five WTA titles and had climbed 36 positions in the women’s ranking, from No. 47 to No. 11.
A little tired after the nearly two-hour long semifinal played the day before against former champion Ana Ivanović and with a strained left thigh, covered in a wide bandage, Halep had trouble finding her rhythm and energy. She moved with more difficulty, had problems with her serve, made unforced errors and lost the first set. Surrendering the second one would have meant losing her first final in 2013.
But she kept her cool, and started over. She took off her bandage and, shoulders tense and eyes on the ball, like a cat on the prowl, she fought for each point, she ran from one corner of the pomegranate-colored court to the other, wearing out the 1.75-meter tall Australian with well-placed corner shots, tying the score and pushing the match into the decisive set.
It wasn’t the first time the Romanian made a spectacular comeback. “Simona Halep has shone in recent months through her ability to come back and not give up the fight,” said the match’s British commentator. He also referred to her as the revelation of 2013, the year she went from a struggling player to a rising star. Halep described it differently – climbing the ranks, winning the trophies was nice – but the most important thing was that 2013 was the year she rediscovered the pleasure and the joy of tennis.
This joy was apparent in the third set, when she gave herself to the game completely. She played each point as if it were her last, swooshing her racquet through the air with every fault. Towards the end of the game she managed to regain confidence, the highly praised leg movements, the incisive shots and the clenched fist she pumps to celebrate a successful long backhand – her favorite shot – or a sharp volley to the net.
The win came after a long forehand, sent far from where Stosur waited. Halep let her red racquet fall heavily on the court and covered her face with her hands, then sat on the bench, placed her elbows against her knees and rubbed her eyes. There was a moment of silence before she greeted her team and family sitting in the stand behind her, before the award ceremony, before autographs and interviews. A moment where she was all alone, as she always is on the court.
Tennis is the loneliest sport, Andre Agassi writes in his autobiography. „There’s nowhere to hide when things go wrong. No dugout, no sideline, no neutral corner. It’s just you out there, naked.”
Tennis is a sport that requires total balance and many coaches, experts and close friends see that in Simona Halep. The fact that she won all six finals played in 2013 tells physical trainer Teo Cercel, who has known her since she was little and with whom he started working again last fall, that “she has a fantastic mental strength”. The emotional load of a final is nothing like any other match, he explains. In 2013, only Serena Williams won more titles than the Romanian – 11, but not even Williams triumphed on all court surfaces, as Halep did: on clay, her favorite, in Nuremberg (June) and Budapest (July), on grass in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands (June), on hard outdoor in New Haven (August) and on hard indoor in Moscow (October) and Sofia (November).
Her adaptability to any surface shows she is a complete player, says Nicuşor Ene, one of her first coaches. “A super-talent adapts to anything, not just play surfaces but also climates, audiences, time zones,” and he saw in Halep a gifted child, even at the tender age of six.
Besides physical potential, a player needs hard work, health, mental strength and the ability to cope with a pressure that comes with switching to seniors, where many players dwindle. And financial support, because tennis is one of the most expensive sports and a player’s family often bears the financial burden alone.
Halep had it all.
Her family, with whom she is very close, supported her all the way. They guided her towards tennis but didn’t push her. “We offered her a ramp, but it was her choice,” says Stere Halep, a 52 year-old man with a keen sense of humor. He admits, however, that his “ambition to make a tennis player out of her” helped tip the scales. In fact, Halep Senior wanted any of his kids to grow up to be an athlete, as he himself had failed to become a professional football player; he only played for Săgeata Stejarul, a fourth division team. So he took his eldest son, Nicuşor, to tennis practice, but the boy quit when he was 11 and focused on school work. Halep sometimes joined him and the coach, Ioan Stan, noticed her on the sidelines, running swiftly to retrieve balls. He liked the way she moved so he gave her a tennis racquet and called her in for lessons, twice a week. Little more than a year later, when he thought it was time to move on to the next level, he recommended she continued with Nicuşor Ene, a former student of his. Although tiny and skinny, she moved well on the court, she was fast, spry and a very fast learner, says Ene. By the time she was seven she could hit all the shots and at eight she started competing, playing her first finals and winning her first tournaments.
Her parents went everywhere with her and kept close watch, remembers coach Radu Popescu, with whom she worked one summer. “Take her on, she’ll get you places,” he then told his colleague, Daniel Dragu, who trained her from 11 to 14. Popescu was impressed with the maturity and intelligence in Halep’s style. “At 11, even though she was barely taller than the net, she was a worthy opponent with a clear view of the game.”
During the first part of her junior career, her father, who owns a dairy factory, provided everything she needed: quality gear, personal trainers, the means to travel to competitions. It wasn’t always easy and there came a time when he had to borrow money. Since 15, Halep was also sponsored by Corneliu Idu, a local businessman who started a tennis school in Constanta in 2002, Tenis Club Idu. Over the next two years, Idu paid for all her travels and training.
With the moral support of her family, the financial support provided of Idu and trained by Liviu Panait from the tennis club, Halep started competing in Grand Slam tournaments. The best performance of her junior career came in June 2008, when she was just shy of 17: she won the French Open and become Junior World No.1.
“This girl will win the French Open one day,” her father bragged to friends when she was just seven. His own parents, who didn’t support his own footballing career, called him crazy when he travelled with her to tournaments and came back with “trinkets”. “You have to be a little crazy in life,” he says now, snickering.
He did all this because he believed in her. In the spring of 2013, everyone in the family wrote down the WTA rank they thought she would reach by the end of the season. They put the notes in an envelope, which they opened in December, when she had reached No.11. Halep and her mother had written 35, her brother 27, and her father 18. He had initially wanted to write down 10, but even he thought that was a bit daring, from 64, where she was at the time.
In early December, more than 200 children crowded an indoor court at Club Idu between Constanţa and Mamaia, to see her up close, hit a few balls with her, get her autograph.
For four hours, Halep and two other Romanian players, Horia Tecău and Sorana Cîrstea, didn’t get a moment’s rest. They went from playing over an improvised net with five and six-year-olds, to longer exchanges with older children on the main court, to giving interviews ad signing autographs. All this to the incessant buzz of parents in the stalls, of the event MC, of children excitedly asking for autographs, even on their foreheads.
“Simona was this close to cracking,” remembers Claudia Vasilache, who has known Halep since she was little. “Compared to Horia and Sorana, who were all smiles throughout, Simona didn’t cope well with the stress.” Vasilache remembers making her way to the court at some point to find her cornered by TV cameras. As their eyes met, a wide-eyed Halep asked her for water and a pretzel. Eyes locked in a blank stare, compulsively hitting her red racquet against her leg, overwhelmed by the hordes of people surrounding her, journalists, organizers, parents, children, she didn’t know how to react.
Her winning streak in 2013 turned the introverted 22-year-old into a public figure. All of a sudden, she was the talk of the country, people were offering opinions, advice, asking for interviews, demanding higher performances.
“Small tournaments don’t matter much if you don’t do well in Grand Slams,” said former world no.1 Ilie Năstase, whose presence in the VIP stall in Sofia weighed heavy on Halep’s shoulders. “The size of the tournament is set by the value of those you defeat”, replied Romanian journalist Cristian Tudor Popescu in an opinion piece, adding that success in today’s tennis world entails a much tougher struggle, excruciating physical training, special psychological counseling and sophisticated nutrition and recovery techniques, whereas back in Năstase’s day all you needed was talent.
A private and discreet person, Halep has had a hard time getting used to her new status and she still thinks fondly of the quiet life she had just six months before, when no one knew who she was and she could walk down the street unnoticed. Now everyone recognizes her and asks something of her. One day, around Christmas, she stopped on her way to practice to a sports store. Inside, a man approached her and asked if she was the Simona Halep. She froze and said “no”; she still doesn’t know why she did it. “Like hell you aren’t!” he replied, annoyed, and Halep just left, not knowing how to react.
Of all the changes, her relationship with journalists, who show up at her practice, invite her to TV shows and interview her on the sidelines, seems the most exhausting, because it drains her energy. “And tennis”, she says, “requires all of it.”
She started getting media attention in May 2013, at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, where she had an unexpected performance: from the qualifiers, she made it all the way to the semifinals, where she was stopped by Serena Williams, winner of 17 single and 13 double Grand Slam titles, whom she believes she had no way of beating, no matter what she did. But on her way into the semifinals she took out three Top 20 players, including Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska, one of the most awe-inspiring players on the circuit.
“That was the trigger,” she told me in December, after a practice session. “When I beat Radwanska, which I thought was impossible. That’s when I knew I could do even better.”
The first victories against top players do wonders for morale, believes journalist Carole Bouchard of L’Équipe, who was taken aback by Halep’s break last year. “You don’t see that every day, it’s hard to win six tournaments in one year, especially now, when tennis is at such a high level.” Bouchard has been watching Halep for a few years and always thought she had a special gift and good, clean shots. “But from a point on, it’s no longer about technique, it’s about courage, mentality and audacity.”
What Halep lacked before the spring of 2013 was confidence, thinks coach Andrei Mlendea, who was with her from April to early October. She played well before that too but was going through a rougher patch due to some back problems, Mlendea told Romanian newspaper ProSport. She got her mojo back a week before Rome, at the Mutua Madrid Open. Ion Ţiriac, the owner of the tournament, had given her a wild-card. She lost then, after more than three hours of play, but that was the game when she felt she was able to play again, finally liberated from the back pains that had been holding her back for months.
In Rome, she won her first major matches and with them came the confidence that sustained her as she won all six titles. Her game became more aggressive, and that aggressiveness on court was not just a consequence of her newfound confidence but a calculated step forward, which she believes was the most important decision she made last year. Over the past four years she had focused more on strengthening her defence. But she felt she was running and straining her body too much, risking injury, especially since it was around that time that she started having back pains.
At the end of 2012, she took some alone time to analyze her own game and decided she should go back to being aggressive, as she was during her junior days. This would allow her to finish points sooner and not wear herself out that quickly. Her parents and family friends had been telling her she should play more aggressively for a long time but Halep says she is the type of person who doesn’t do a thing until she feels she needs to.
Mlendea, whom she describes as just a training partner, joined her in April, and in August, coach Adrian Marcu joined her team and was with her up until Sofia, when she decided she needed some more alone time. “During the last part of the year I enjoyed being on my own and testing my strength.”
Halep realized her psyche was the ultimate key back in high school, says Cătălin Spătaru, who taught her psychology. “She realized technique and training were useless if she encountered obstacles within herself.”
“We’ve had our work cut out for us with this one,” Halep’s father says about her childhood, adding she was always sensitive. When she was little, she used to cry before games and had trouble stepping out onto the court. By talking to Spătaru and others, she came to accept that she couldn’t change this about herself, but she could learn to control it. Her hands still get cold before every match, but as soon as she hits one or two balls, she relaxes.
Spătaru believes that last year she managed to play the way she wanted, not letting herself get overwhelmed by negativity, not being afraid to play. Halep’s tennis has been described by international experts and commentators as beautiful, smart, solid, spectacular and complex. They praised her technique, attitude and focus she puts into hitting each ball, following its trajectory with wide green eyes from under arched eyebrows; they praised her clean shots, her ability to turn defense into offense and her excellent moves, the dance of her white shoes on the red, blue or green court, drawing lines, triangles and zigzags – a slower dance, with flowing moves on clay, unpredictable moves on grass, fast and rhythmic moves on hard courts. “She is a world class player,” Robbie Koenig, former player turned commentator, said after a recent match; “She’s the one to watch, she’s on fire,” presenter Andrew Krasny, who interviews players on court after matches, told me at a tournament; “This girl, it’s like she has no lungs but two hearts, one on the right and one on the left,” said former Romanian player Ion Ţiriac on a TV show.
From the other side of the net, Halep’s tennis is perceived this way: “She makes you run a lot and you get tired,” says Monica Niculescu, another young Romanian player. “She hits to the left, she hits to the right and when you’re exhausted, she hits a winner on the other side.” Agnieszka Radwanska said after a second match lost to the Romanian: “She was making unbelievable shots from nowhere. I didn’t know what to do to end the point, because she was everywhere.”
After two hours of practice on court, Halep goes inside the fitness hall at the national Tennis Center, the training base of the Romanian Tennis Federation, where her trainer, Teo Cercel, awaits. It’s seven p.m., the day after Christmas, and there’s no one there. Halep, who came straight from hometown Constanţa, is just wrapping up her training for the new season and will leave for Australia in four days.
“How do you feel about going away for the tournament?” Cercel asks her in between two weight-lifting exercises on the mattress.
“I can’t wait,” she answers as she studies her fingers, as she sometimes does during matches.”But the idea of that long flight is killing me.”
“You’ve got your plane tickets?” he asks after several other exercises, this time with a medicinal ball she throws off the mattress to the left and to the right.
“Yeah,” she says, unwrapping a candy bar she takes out from the sports bag where she keeps her racquets and a change of clothes, which she always carries and packs herself, her only ritual before games. “You want them?”
“Send them to me, we don’t want you forgetting to bring them.”
Next up are exercises on the stepper in front of a mirror that covers an entire wall, side movements with an elastic band wrapped around the legs, throws and catches with the medicinal ball, from the mattress and standing up, to the front and to the side. These are fitness exercises mimicking movements in tennis, involving the entire movement chain required in a forehand or backhand, and preventive back exercises she always does.
“How many more to go?” she asks eventually. “I can’t take much longer.”.
“Just this set and you’re done.”
As she drops the green one-kilo weight to the hardwood floor, Cercel crouches before her and starts working on her legs, one at a time. He stretches them, bends them, crosses them. Halep tells him about the three days she spent home for Christmas, her brother’s engagement party and her drive on the highway on the way over. Then they plan the last two training sessions before her departure, squeezing them between tennis practice and massages.
“I was hoping to go out tomorrow night, Mr. Teo,” she tells him laughing on their way to the parking lot, as she munches on another cookie she found in her sports bag. “And you want me here at 10 in the morning.”
Halep’s back problems started a few years ago, before the breast reduction surgery she had in July 2009, when she wasn’t even 18. She kept thinking about it for months because she had a lot of concerns, including anesthesia. “It’s hard to go through something like this willingly, to be in surgery for eight hours, especially at that age.”
Breast reduction surgery is a much riskier procedure than breast augmentation. Halep’s surgery, however, was a necessary medical procedure not elective plastic surgery, says the doctor who operated on her and who asked to remain anonymous.
“A person can’t live like that,” says the doctor, who saw in Halep a child who knew exactly what she wanted. He would have recommended the surgery even if she hadn’t been an athlete, for medical reasons. The extra weight, nearly two kilos on each breast, caused her not just pain and difficulty moving – slowing her reaction on the court –, but also spine issues. With her 1.68-meter, 60-kilo small figure, she wasn’t built like Serena Williams. She couldn’t support that kind of weight.
Her decision to have the surgery was criticized by her fans and made international headlines. When she is asked about it at press conferences and in interviews, her answer is always the same: it was a good decision for her career and she wishes the media would just move on.
She didn’t regret it for a moment, as she doesn’t regret any of the sacrifices she made, especially since she doesn’t believe she would have got to where she is today without the surgery – she used to be No. 232. But when I ask whether she would do it again, she hesitates for about two seconds. “For tennis, yes,” and she immediately adds, firmly, “but just for tennis.”
Surgery isn’t the only sacrifice made by the young woman who, as a child, played with tennis racquets more than dolls, in her teens spent more time on the tennis court than in school and whose youth was spent flying from one tournament to another rather than going out with friends. Claudia Vasilache of Club Idu remembers an episode after she had won the Roland Garros Junior. They were in Sibiu with several children to watch Romania play a Davis Cup match and one day they all went to play paintball. After considering for a few moments whether to join the game, Halep stayed on the sidelines, watching and taking pictures so as not to risk an injury.
The match at the French Open was her last as a junior. She had already started playing a few futures tournaments, the first step in professional tennis, and she had even won two in Bucharest, in spring. She could have moved up faster, but neither she nor her parents had known she needed to play at least three consecutive futures tournaments to get in the WTA rankings. She would always stop at two, so in 2008 she started from scratch.
In Bucharest she was reunited with other tennis players, from her generation or older, whom she knew from junior competitions. Sorana Cîrstea, Raluca Olaru and Monica Niculescu were already in the Top 100 and motivated the rest of them. At the beginning of 2012, Romania had seven women players in the Top 100, of which four in the Top 50. Only Russia and the United States had more.
Romanian believe climbing the ranks is easier in women’s tennis, that competition isn’t as fierce, and that women tend to be more inconsistent and quit earlier. To foreigners, the Romanian invasion is intriguing and they always ask what their secret is. “We’re fighters,” Halep replied during a press conference last year, knowing she got this far on her own and with her family’s support, as all the others. The fact that Romania doesn’t have a tennis school, a shared training system, is clearly apparent in the girls’ very different styles of play. “Some countries have a better system to produce good athletes and tennis players,” says Daniel Dobre, head of the Federation’s Coaches College. “In others, individual effort is greater.”
Although her generation is talented, no other female player made it as far as Halep did. To climb, you need a stairway with steps, says Sever Dron, former non-playing captain of the Romanian team in Fed Cup, where Halep started playing in 2010. It’s harder to stay up there, believes the coach, who noticed Halep wasn’t as exuberant as the others, but rather reserved and focused on her inner game. “When you climb the top of a mountain, you need to stay there; if you don’t, you fall over to the other side.”
Halep took a while to find her pace in 2014. At the Apia International Sidney, the first tournament she played, although starting out as a favorite, she was eliminated in the first round by Madison Keys, an 18 year-old player at No. 38. The defeat sparked an abundance of internet comments accusing her of not training hard enough between competitions, saying she needed a coach and that she looked like a player in the Top 200, not Top 15.
A top seed is harder to manage than an outsider position, says her manager Virginia Ruzici, who thinks this change will be an important test for Halep. Ranked players fear her and will be more careful, while young, rising players will play without pressure, like she did last year.
“There’s no reason to feel pressure,” coach Daniel Dobre told her after one practice. “You have proven what you had to prove, all you have to do now is play for pleasure, like you did before.”
Outside the fitness hall of the National Tennis Center, bundled in a black hooded jacket, her sports bag on her back, she listened and nodded, eyes to the ground. That’s what her parents and family friends had been telling her, she should relax and enjoy tennis. She knows it too but “when you go out on the court, it’s harder. It’s not easy knowing Romanians will criticize you if you lose.”
In the match against Keys, Halep double-faulted seven times. She knows she still needs to improve her serve, one of the hardest shots in tennis, and she practiced it at every training session before she left. Keys, a 1.80-meter player with a strong forehand, hit serves of as much as 197 km/h in Sidney. (Venus Williams holds the record in women’s tennis, with 207.6 km/h, while Halep’s average serve is at 160; but besides speed, placement, force and spin are also important.)
The fact that she is now part of the elite is a new mental threshold she has to overcome, says French journalist Bouchard. It’s important she believes she deserves to be there and that she can defeat anyone. Partly to alleviate some of the pressure coming from fans and the media and partly because she knows it will be a hard year and she has a lot of points to defend, Halep has always said her goal for the new season is to stay in the Top 20 and reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal.
She hit her goal at the first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, after a chess-like game with Serbian Jelena Janković, in which the former world leader played – with dramatic eye-rolls, contesting umpire decisions and making comments to her brother in the stalls – a psychological game. “It’s a style of play that wears you out,” Halep said after the match, “you need a lot of patience”. And patient she was, especially in the first game of the decisive set, an 18-minute game with long, fierce exchanges, where the balance kept shifting, where the tension caused even the referees to make mistakes; a game that exhausted her, but won her the match.
In the quarterfinals, however, her emotions got the best of her and she was defeated 6–3, 6–0 by Dominika Cibulková, then No. 24, who beat Maria Sharapova and made it to the final. Halep was disappointed by her game, but even more by the reaction of people back home, where papers wrote Cibulková had humiliated her. She decided then and there not to take criticism to heart anymore because she knew other defeats would follow, as is it bound to happen in any athlete’s career.
“I’m only human, a regular player,” she said in an interview after a loss to Kristina Mladenovic a week later in Paris. It’s something she has been repeating since the start of the year, a new way for her to release some of the pressure. She doesn’t want people to put her up on a pedestal, she doesn’t want Romanians saying they are proud of her and then say she was humiliated when she loses. She wants to be an ordinary person, like anyone else, the only difference being she gets to do what she’s always wanted – living her childhood dream.
The next day, she was facing the net again, preparing for the next tournament. “It helps that every day is a new beginning,” she told me after the intense training, where she forgot all about Mladenovic and threw herself in fierce exchanges against her new coach, Belgian Wim Fissette, whom she had met a few days before. After the Australian Open she felt the need to have by her side someone who had worked with big players, and The Belgian had trained Kim Clijsters, a four-time Grand Slam winner. That is the final goal of their collaborations, because “that’s what tennis is about, after all”. Rankings are good but winning a Grand Slam is the best thing that could happen to a player, said Fissette, who believes Halep can someday win a major tournament.
On one of the five indoor hard courts of the French National Training Center, at Roland Garros, Halep sped left and right, hit with force and got annoyed, raising her hand to her head, when she failed to shoot the ball over the net. At one point, she overtook the Belgian with a backhand cross, which Ruzici, watching from a wooden bench on the sideline, applauded. Next to her sat Halep’s mother. It was hard for her alone in Australia, where she traveled only with her physical trainer and training partner; she called her parents as soon as she stepped off the court, before she even changed.
“She’s still a child,” says her father, who met her, arms wide open, at the airport on January 23, when she got back.
After Paris, her mother went with her to Budapest, at the Fed Cup, where Halep won two matches out of three, helping Romania qualify in the play-off tie for World Group II after 15 years. They flew straight to Doha after that, where they were joined by her father and a few friends of the family. While her mother is nervous on the sidelines, which makes Halep nervous as well, her father is confident and always tells her she is the best, she will win and she has nothing to be afraid of. When he is in Bucharest and comes to see her practice, he nods contentedly and applauds her, smiling. “The moment she starts playing relaxed, as she does at practice,” he says, “she will be unstoppable.”
To the sound of applause from Romanians in the stalls, who supported her throughout the tournament in Doha, Halep gets ready to serve. She has a match point in the semifinal against Agnieszka Radwanska, whom she is meeting for the first time since Rome.
She looks straight ahead, quickly deciding where to send the ball and lifts it above her head with her left hand, which remains suspended in the air. As the racquet touches the floating yellow globe, she lifts her feet off the ground and, for a split second, the ball spinning fast towards the Polish player isn’t the only one that’s floating. As soon as her feet touch the hard purplish surface again, the ball lands on the line. Radwanska sends it back with a low, unsteady forehand and Halep changes its direction, shooting a cross to the opponent’s right corner, whose shoes squeak as she tries to catch the ball. She hooks it with an extended hand and Halep starts preparing for the final attack. She turns her right shoulder to the net, so she can catch it with a backhand, squeezes the red racquet with both hands and heads for the ball, which she shoots powerfully, with a fluid whole body movement, to the opposite corner. Before Radwanska starts to sprint, Halep’s right fist is up in the air, and she is in the final.
That last point ended with her signature shot, the backhand. It was a classic point for her style of play, where she makes the opponent run into the corners and then hits, decisively into the empty court. If the first win against the Polish player, last spring in Rome, was a trigger that gave her the confidence that she could take on top players, this win showed her she can beat them categorically and repeatedly, that she’s no longer the surprising outsider making spectacular comebacks, but has at least equal chances from the get-go and deserves her ranking. After Doha, where she beat Angelique Kerber in the final, she revised her goal. Stay in the Top 10 in 2014.
Back home, she was greeted at the airport, as ever, by family, friends, with flowers and camera flashes. Reporters asked her if she was thinking of No. 1, if it bothered her that she never beat Serena.
“Not at all,” she replied, laughing. “I don’t have to beat Serena to feel accomplished.”
EPILOGUE (FIVE MONTHS LATER)
Simona Halep is currently World No. 2, the best ranking for a Romanian tennis player ever.
After winning the Qatar Open in February, she reached the semifinals in Indian Wells and played the Madrid Open and the French Open finals, both of which she lost to Maria Sharapova in three sets. She made it to the semifinals at Wimbledon, where she injured her ankle and lost to Eugenie Bouchard.
The most successful Romanian athlete this year signed new sponsorship contracts: with Adidas in May, and in July with local chain Dedeman, a large do-it-yourself retailer.
In July, she won the first edition of the Bucharest Open, her eighth WTA title, then took a few weeks off. She started the hard season in Cincinnati, losing to Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals.
She is now getting ready to defend her title at New Haven and for the last Grand Slam of the year, US Open.
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