Tennis: Holder Simona Halep shrugs off expectations ahead of French Open

Simona Halep enters Roland Garros as favourite for the title.
Simona Halep enters Roland Garros as favourite for the title.PHOTO: REUTERS

(REUTERS) - French Open champion Simona Halep has said she will not be burdened by expectations that she can repeat last year's triumph and would rather focus on enjoying the Grand Slam which starts on Sunday (May 26).

The 27-year-old Romanian enters Roland Garros as favourite for the title given the contrasting form of some of the top names, including Japan's world No. 1 Naomi Osaka, but her own clay-court preparation has not been spectacular either.

The third-ranked Halep could have knocked Osaka off top spot by winning the Madrid Open earlier this month but lost in straight sets to Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens in the final.

A few days later, she fell at her first hurdle in the Italian Open, losing to Marketa Vondrousova - her second defeat by the 19-year-old Czech this year after a three-set loss at Indian Wells.

However, the Romanian said she did not feel any extra pressure to retain her title at Roland Garros.

"I have no expectations because it's the first time when I have to defend a trophy at a Grand Slam," she told Romania's Digi Sport TV station. "(I just want to) be relaxed, enjoy the tournament and try to win some matches. Nothing more!"

Elite group Halep has been backed by former French Open champions Mats Wilander and Justine Henin to join an elite group of players in retaining her crown, with the Swedish three-time men's champion saying Halep versus Serena Williams would be "a dream final".

Williams, 37, is battling to be fit for Roland Garros having pulled out of the Italian Open last Tuesday due to a persistent knee injury..

Only five women have successfully defended their titles at the French Open - Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Monica Seles, Steffi Graf and Henin.

Last year, Halep finally made it over the line in Paris with a three-set victory over American Sloane Stephens in the final for her maiden Grand Slam title.

The Romanian has special memories of Roland Garros, which is where she won the junior title in 2008 and reached her first major final against Maria Sharapova in 2014.

She received medical treatment in the closing stages of defeat by Vondrousova but has shrugged off concerns about her own fitness by declaring herself ready to compete in Paris.

Halep even saw some advantages from her early exit in the Italian capital.

"It's also a good thing if you look at the positive side, I needed a few days of relaxation," she said. "I rest and hope to have the batteries loaded for Roland Garros."