Holding Court

I'm ambitious but must be less self-critical

In the lead-up to the Oct 22-29 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, the eight singles players from last year will pen a monthly exclusive column for The Straits Times. The third instalment features 2014 finalist Simona Halep

A journalist asked me earlier this year what aspects of my personality help me on a tennis court and which aspects hurt me. It was an interesting question and it did not take me long to answer:

My ambition. I want to achieve great things and I want to get the most out of my talent and my career on the tour.

What hurts me is my self-belief. If you are one of the best in your profession, you are probably a perfectionist. I am one and when things do not go my way, I am very critical of myself.

Sometimes too critical. In the difficult moments on court, I can struggle to stay positive.

I don't know why I get angry with myself and I cannot describe how it feels. Maybe it is because I ask too much of myself every day. No one has bigger expectations of me than me. I know I have lost matches because I was too distracted by my negative thoughts to focus on what I needed to do to win.

I believe I can change this, but it will take work.

World No. 4 Simona Halep of Romania returning to unheralded Estonian Anett Kontaveit in her 6-2, 6-4 quarter-final win at the Italian Open. She next plays Kiki Bertens or Daria Gavrilova.
World No. 4 Simona Halep of Romania returning to unheralded Estonian Anett Kontaveit in her 6-2, 6-4 quarter-final win at the Italian Open. She next plays Kiki Bertens or Daria Gavrilova. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

At the Miami Open in March, I should have beaten Johanna Konta in straight sets in the semi-finals. I served for the match but lost in three sets. When my coach Darren Cahill came down to talk to me after I lost the second set, I was too angry at myself to listen to him.

That moment was broadcast all over the world. I've watched it. I'm ashamed at how I acted but it made me realise that I have to change.

I cannot be like this. I lost some important matches with that attitude.

I had some tough conversations with Darren after Miami and he said I have to change and he was right. I decided to clear my head, to understand what I have done wrong, what I have to do better to get stronger and to get more positive on court.

So I made the decision. I have to be kinder to myself and be more forgiving. I feel that way now. I changed and now I'm much better on the court. But it does not happen overnight. Hopefully I can keep this attitude.

Circumstances helped change my perspective. I didn't start the season well because of injuries, so I don't have pressure now. I feel relaxed.

It helps that I am back on clay. I was a junior Roland Garros champion and made the final there in 2014. I have also made the semi-finals at Wimbledon and won most of my titles on hard court.

I played well and had great results on all the surfaces, but I like clay the most. I feel at home on this surface. I feel safe. That helps me with my attitude.

I lost many tournaments at the beginning of the year and now I'm just trying to build a stronger game and to think for the future.

Last year I was putting a lot of pressure on myself every tournament to do something big. Not any more. I'm just thinking to work every day, to give my best every day during practice as well, to work on my mental side and feel the pleasure because I love this sport.

In the past, I didn't show I like it that much on court. I was negative, I was nervous, I was upset.

Now I just want to change my perspective a little bit. I'm not thinking about big results or big goals. I just want to take it tournament by tournament and to be very focused on my attitude.

This is my main goal. I hope I can keep this feeling and I hope to get stronger and to enjoy more and more.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2017, with the headline I'm ambitious but must be less self-critical. Subscribe