New York – Simona Halep, her number one ranking secure and a Grand Slam title on her resume, is riding high heading into the US Open but that doesn‘t mean she‘s taking anything for granted.
“I don‘t feel the pressure,” said the 26-year-old Romanian, whose intensity on the court hasn‘t always worked to her advantage.
A victory in the French Open – after disappointments in three Grand Slam finals – confirmed for Halep that she had truly arrived at the top.
“Inside myself something changed,” she said. “I‘m more relaxed. These two were my dreams – to be number one in the world and to win a Grand Slam. Always I say number one in the world without a Grand Slam, you are not a real number one.
“After the French Open, I really started to believe that I‘m a real number one.”
That ranking isn‘t in jeopardy at the final Grand Slam of the year, but Halep is under no illusion as to how difficult it will be to claim a second major.
“I can say I have a big chance for this tournament, but it‘s tough to say that I‘m the favourite 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,” glumly noting on Friday 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.”
Halep isn‘t worrying just yet whether that will be at Flushing Meadows. She was looking no further than first-round foe Kaia Kanepi – a quarter-finalist last year.
“It‘s a very tough draw for sure,” Halep said. “Last year I lost in the first round, so it cannot be worse than that. I feel confident. I feel that I have the game to win against her, but she‘s very dangerous.”
Halep followed her victory in Montreal with a run to the final in Cincinnati – where she was clearly fading as she fell to Dutch outsider Kiki Bertens.
Although she cited a sore right Achilles in withdrawing from New Haven, Halep said the week off had put things right.
“I had a tough few days after the Cincinnati final, but now I‘ve recovered, I feel strong again.
That means that, as always, Halep is primed for a fight.
“The gentleman, when he‘s announcing the players, it‘s very special and very nice,” she said of hearing herself introduced as the world number one and French Open champion.
“But when you start the match you forget that you are number one, you have all the titles. You just have the battle ahead in front of you. You have just to fight for it, so I‘m doing that.”