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Simona Halep targets first Slam title at Australian Open

Having finally ticked the world No 1 box, Simona Halep is focusing all her energy on trying to break her Grand Slam duck at the Australian Open.

The Romanian was beaten in the French Open final for the second time last year but her consistency saw her finish the season at the top of the rankings.

It became something of an odyssey for Halep, who having been one match away from No 1 three times clinched it at the fourth attempt. 

Simona Halep is firmly focused on winning her first career Grand Slam at the Australian Open

The Romanian was beaten in the French Open final last year by unseeded Jelena Ostapenko

The Romanian was beaten in the French Open final last year by unseeded Jelena Ostapenko

But after winning the Shenzhen title this year, the world No 1 has her eye on the biggest prize

But after winning the Shenzhen title this year, the world No 1 has her eye on the biggest prize

‘It’s special for me,’ she said. ‘It’s nice to be in this position. I don’t feel pressure. I feel okay. I feel fit. I feel ready to start.

‘Of course I want to stay here at the top as long as possible. But I’m not doing everything for this reason. I have one more goal: to win a Grand Slam.’

Winning the title in Shenzhen last week secured Halep top seeding at a Grand Slam for the first time but she is one of six women who could finish the tournament ranked No 1.

Caroline Wozniacki ended last season with the biggest title of her career at the WTA Finals and is back at number two.

The Dane was 20 when she first topped the rankings and it is six years since she last held the position.

‘I think it is something that would always be special and really awesome,’ she said of the prospect of a return. ‘At the same time, I’m just doing what I can do. Everything else will kind of fall into place.

‘If I do it, that would be amazing. If I don’t, it’s still great. I’ve been there before. It’s a little different, I suppose, this time around.

‘I feel good. I think I’ve had a great last year. Something I’m very proud of. Hopefully I can build on that.’

Halep is one of six players who could finish the first Grand Slam of 2018 as No 1 in the world

Halep is one of six players who could finish the first Grand Slam of 2018 as No 1 in the world

Third-ranked Garbine Muguruza is the only one of the top four who has won a Grand Slam having triumphed at the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon last year.

But consistency still eludes the Spaniard and she arrived in Melbourne with doubts over a thigh problem after withdrawing during the tournament in Sydney.

She said: ‘It’s better. I’m training every day. I’m doing everything I can to be full recovered. Hopefully I’m pain-free and everything-free once the tournament starts.’

Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova and Jelena Ostapenko are the other contenders for the No 1 spot but in excess of 20 women have been touted as potential winners of the title.

In the continued absence of Serena Williams, the women’s game remains in a state of flux and a good percentage of the draw will feel they could emulate Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens, who were both unseeded slam champions in 2017.

Jelena Ostapenko beat Halep in magnificent fashion at the French Open final last year

Sloane Stephens was unseeded when she lifted the US Open title in September

Ostapenko (L) and Sloane Stephens were both unseeded when they won Grand Slams in 2017

Chris Evert believes the uncertainty should be embraced.

Speaking on behalf of ESPN, the 18-time Grand Slam singles champion said: ‘There’s an abundance of talent out there.

‘Yes, we have nobody besides Serena who has taken the bull by the horns. On the other side of the coin, it’s probably more intriguing because you have 20 players that can win a grand slam. Certainly you couldn’t have said that 10 years ago or even five years ago.

‘We’ll see what Serena comes back. It might be a different story. But for right now this is a different look. Everyone has to make adjustments in their thought process and their enthusiasm when they watch women’s tennis. It is intriguing. Before it wasn’t.’



Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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