"There is a pain. I couldn't move properly, so that's why I stopped...I feel sad that I couldn't finish...I felt like it's getting worse if I continue," Simona Halep had said when in September she had to retire at the China Open opposite Tunisia's Ons Jabeur.
The opening round and after the first set Halep called it quits giving Jabeur the match at 6-1. The Romanian's back ailment was later diagnosed as a herniated disc and she knew from that moment on she wouldn't play another tournament and just rest until her new season start at Sydney.
Ashleigh Barty couldn't believe it when she looked at the draw seeing she'd play Halep. The Australian remembered back during the Rogers Cup in Canada last season how Halep won over her in straight sets 6-4, 6-1 and says "She gave me a belting in Montreal...I knuckled down...I finally learned my lesson."
Barty knew she plays more consistent now a days and this match probably served as a little pay back for her lost to the Romanian. Barty had tried to steamroll Halep and nearly did even from the start of the match. "That is stunning from Barty, hugely inventive, terrific depth as well..."
the commentator said as Barty led 3-2 in the first set. She came up to net, volleyed and then drew Halep over and cross courted her for the winning point. The second set the ex-Cricket player continued her dominance by dictating shots but Halep had a few excellent returns of her own as the commentator yelled "That is absolutely brilliant from Halep" as she had multi rallies and ended the point on a blasting overhead.
Halep had fought relentlessly with each rally, but it wasn't enough to outstroke Barty who was in cruise control much of the time. Halep racked up 31 unforced errors which didn't help matters at all. It was at press conference time that she commented on her performance saying "I think it was a great match after I played one full match since the US Open.
She played really well her slice was really great today." Players know when they should have taken the opportunities to win but either don't or can't. "I had so many chances to break her and to take advantage but I couldn't...I could feel like I don't have the rhythm yet...she was a little better than me because she had maybe 10 matches more than me in this year so she was better prepared than me."
The Romanian explained that she had to stay out a long time for recuperation and rest from injuries and admitted "I took the risk. I took a longer break because I need it also mentally also physically so I have no expectations that's why I always say because I can't expect myself to be at the highest level at this moment..."
But for Halep, she can only look at the present and despite the injuries and the lackluster performances of perhaps losing the French Open title in 2017 to Jelena Ostapenko she believes in fighting that much harder to win, as she did in coming back to win the French Open title the following year in 2018.
The Romanian is playing without the emotional and strategic support of her four year stint with coach Darren Cahill who exited due to family commitments. She knows she has to get tougher. Sydney was only one match and one tournament.
What most players are preparing and looking forward to is the first grand slam of the year - The Australian Open. Simona Halep sums up her thoughts on performing further saying that "..tennis is good so I just have to believe in myself more."