Unfamiliar, but nice: Halep back in Paris to defend title

(AP Photo/Michel Euler)

By SAMUEL PETREQUIN

AP Sports Writer

PARIS (AP) Simona Halep is experiencing something new at the French Open this year.

The Romanian player is back in Paris to defend her title, a situation she's never been in before.

And she likes it.

"Much better and much easier, because I have the title already," Halep said Friday at Roland Garros. "Doesn't matter anymore what is going to happen. Everything now comes as a bonus. So I will try just to give my best and to see if I'm able to do it again."

Halep, the second Romanian woman to win a Grand Slam title after Virginia Ruzici in 1978, won the French Open last year by rallying past Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the final. She had previously lost three Grand Slams finals, including two on the French clay.

Before her win, the former top-ranked player often had the unpleasant tendency to crumble on big occasions. Like two years ago in the French Open final, when she led Jelena Ostapenko by a set and 3-0 only to fall apart.

She said her defending champion status takes a lot of pressure off.

"Mentally, I am pretty relaxed," she said. "So I just want to take the positive and to be in this position, I think, is the best thing. I am too happy to be in this position, I have to admit this. But there is nothing bad."

Although she has not won a title this year and lost her first match in Rome last week, Halep is confident she can achieve a deep run in Paris on the back of solid clay-court campaign. She won two Fed Cup matches on the slow surface last month and reached the final in Madrid.

"Even if I didn't win the final, I felt that my level is very high," she said. "I have confidence. Coming here, practicing, I felt really well."

Seeded third in Paris, Halep will open her campaign against Ajla Tomljanovic, a player she beat last year on hard court.

"It's going to be different because it's clay court," Halep said. "But still it's going to be a very tough match. She's powerful. She hits the ball strong. If I am able to do my game, I think I have a good chance to win."

More AP tennis coverage: https://www.apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Updated May 24, 2019

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