Halep fights to be S'pore-ready

World No. 1 Simona Halep is the only player to have qualified for all five editions of the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore. She has yet to recover fully from a herniated disc which forced her to retire during her last match in Beijing last mont
World No. 1 Simona Halep is the only player to have qualified for all five editions of the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore. She has yet to recover fully from a herniated disc which forced her to retire during her last match in Beijing last month.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ailing back has to hold up in Moscow before world No. 1 can play WTA Finals

Ever the spunky fighter, Simona Halep is determined to do all she can to shrug off a back injury in time for the Oct 21-28 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

Remarkably, the world No. 1 is the only player to have qualified for all five editions of the year-end tournament since it moved to Singapore from Istanbul in 2014. It will be hosted in Shenzhen, China from next year for 10 years.

In a media conference call from Moscow, where she is scheduled to play in the Kremlin Cup this week, Halep said with a laugh: "When I first came to Singapore in 2014, my brother told me if I (can) qualify for Singapore these five years, then I can retire. While it is pretty amazing to do it, I won't retire. But I will keep this as one of the best things that happened to me.

"I'm really proud to qualify for Singapore all five years. I really hope I can play this year also. I'm No. 1 for the rest of the year, I won a Grand Slam (French Open in June). I don't have reasons to keep playing, but it's just my feeling that I don't want to give up."

However, the 27-year-old Romanian will have to listen to her body, having been plagued by a herniated disc which forced her to retire during her last match in Beijing at the end of last month.

She said: "It's been very stressful and I was worried every day because I was waiting to see how I feel every morning I wake up.

"I'm doing physiotherapy to try to make (my back) stronger, but I haven't practised 100 per cent yet.

"If I can't play here (in Moscow), I'm very doubtful I will be able to play in Singapore because it's very close... I don't know now, but I will take a decision for my health."

RUNNING ON EMPTY

Mentally, I just have no more energy... I don't know why, but I think everyone feels a little bit empty when we get to this point.

SIMONA HALEP, on being fatigued at this juncture after a long season.

If Halep makes it to Singapore, she will have her work cut out against seven other top players.

French Open finalist Sloane Stephens is the latest to qualify, joining defending champion and Australian Open winner Caroline Wozniacki, Wimbledon winner Angelique Kerber, US Open champion Naomi Osaka, and former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who has five WTA titles this year. Two more spots are up for grabs.

Although Halep made it to the WTA Finals decider in 2014, she crashed out in the group stage on her next three attempts, which she attributed to fatigue.

"It's really difficult and I feel it. Every year, I feel it more and more," she said. "I give everything I have for the first part of the year and then it's difficult for me to play in Singapore because it's the last tournament.

"Mentally, I just have no more energy and also sometimes I'm injured at this time of the year. I don't know why, but I think everyone feels a little bit empty when we get to this point."

Yet, Halep would not have it any other way. After all, she has been No. 1 for 50 weeks since October last year, far longer than her "idols and role models" Amelie Mauresmo (39 weeks), Maria Sharapova (21) and Kim Clijsters (20).

She said: "I had many tries to get to No. 1 and it was really tough mentally to keep believing it's going to happen one day. But then, after I touched it, it was really tough to keep it because the pressure was there at every tournament.

"(Mauresmo, Sharapova and Clijsters) inspire me all the time. So to be up there means a lot and gives me confidence that I am able to do something huge in tennis."

The WTA Finals will see the world's best players vie for two of the most prestigious titles in women's tennis and a total prize money of US$7 million (S$9.65 million).

The top eight singles players will compete in a round-robin format with the top two in each group moving into the semi-finals, while the top eight doubles pairs will face off in a knockout format.

• Tickets to the WTA Finals are on sale at wtafinals.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2018, with the headline 'Halep fights to be S'pore-ready'. Print Edition | Subscribe