Novak Djokovic inched closer to a record-extending 10th Australian Open title after he overcame a sluggish start to defeat Tommy Paul 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals at Melbourne Park, here on Friday.
World number one Simona Halep Saturday admitted losing the 2018 Australian Open final was a painful moment, but it taught her how to better handle pressure situations which she has since put to good use.
The Romanian was targeting a first ever Grand Slam title in that match against Caroline Wozniacki and looked on track to win before folding in the third set.
Halep had won her service game and then broke the Dane to get a 4-3 lead.
She served for what would have been a 5-3 advantage but Wozniacki broke then held serve for lead 5-4.
The fired-up Dane went on to break again and win 7-6 (7/2), 3-6, 6-4, leaving Halep crushed.
“I didn’t want to think that much about that match because it was really painful to lose it,” she said at Melbourne Park when asked to reflect on what went wrong.
“But I learned some things from that match. That break (at 4-3) broke me a little bit in that moment.
“Now I know how to manage better if that happens again.
“She was better at that moment and maybe fresher than me because I played so many long matches before. She was actually less tired than me and deserved to win. She was stronger,” she added.
A gutsy Halep took what she learned into the next major of the year, the French Open, and made no similar mistakes, romping through the third set of the final 6-1 against Sloane Stephens to finally clinch her maiden Slam title.
“It made a big difference (because) I can say inside myself I did what I wanted to do. I won a Grand Slam finally,” said the 27-year-old.
“Now I can say I’m a real number one Before I said without a Grand Slam, you are not a real number one.
“I’m happy. I’m enjoying the time. Everything I’ve done last year made me be more relaxed,” she added.
– Chill out –
The stellar year saw Halep end 2018 as the world number one, despite her season ending early in October when she suffered a herniated disc in her back.
She called the injury “very scary” and literally did nothing for six weeks to get over it.
But the lay-off means she will start her Australian Open campaign against Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi with limited court time after crashing out of the warm-up Sydney International at the first hurdle.
Despite playing just one game since October, Halep insisted she was fit and ready to go.
“I practised very well these past few days. I’m looking forward actually to the start. But I have three more days, so I will chill another day, then I will start to be focused for what I have to do during the match,” she said.
Along with the injury, another low point of 2018 was losing coach Darren Cahill, who left to spend more time with his family.
Halep said the team around her was close-knit and finding a suitable replacement was not easy.
But she suggested that could change soon.
“Every time you commit to someone in your team, you have to give 100 percent.
So I was not ready in the off-season,” she said of hiring a new coach.
“Now I’m feeling that I’m getting better. As I say always, at this level it is impossible without coach. So maybe in the close future I will have someone. But for the moment, I’m just by myself.”