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Already No. 1, French Open champ Simona Halep knew she needed Slam

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PARIS – It was the end of a long and rewarding day, one she’ll likely never forget, and new French Open champion Simona Halep harbored a couple of overriding concerns.

“I’m tired,” she said. “I’m hungry. I didn’t eat since 9 a.m.”

It was getting close to 12 hours since that last meal, and Halep was speaking to two reporters in what she hoped was her last media session Saturday night after beating Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 for her first Grand Slam title. Halep had pined for such a championship to go along with her No. 1 ranking, and she finally had come through after starting her career 0-3 in major finals.

“I think it was the most important thing, because always I said that if you are No. 1 without a Grand Slam, you are not a real No. 1,” Halep said. “Now that I was able to win, it makes it special, and makes it, like, everything together. It’s real now.”

Sure is.

“She showed a lot of maturity. She’s grown up a lot in the last 12 months. Sometimes the losses do make you mature really quickly. You can go one way with your career, and go downwards, or you can suck it up, work a little bit harder and try to do it again,” said Halep’s coach, Darren Cahill. “That’s the way she went.”

It was Cahill who encouraged Halep to embrace the goal, to go ahead and be forthright – with herself and everyone else – about yearning for something she had come close to but had yet to achieve.

“The Slam is what they play for. Last year, we spoke about this: When she talks about it, not to avoid it. Not to avoid the fact that, `Yes, I want to win a major, and this is what I’m pushing for.’ Not trying to take the pressure off her too much,” he said. “And she was able to step up and handle that pressure. Now she can relax, go out there, let her game go.”

Now there can be no more questions from others about whether the 26-year-old Romanian deserves to be atop the rankings without a major trophy to go alongside that feat.

And no more questions about whether she would ever manage to become a Grand Slam champ, following two losses in finals at the French Open in 2014 and 2017, plus another at the Australian Open this January.

“She’s had a tough journey. I think winning here is very special for her, and I’m glad she finally got her first Slam. It’s a beautiful thing. Very special,” said Stephens, a 25-year-old American who won the U.S. Open last September. “No matter how hard the adversity that you go through, there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m glad she finally got her light.”

So with that accomplished, Halep was asked, what becomes the new goal?

“I didn’t think about it,” she began, with a chuckle. “I will enjoy this moment and I will see.”

And then, without even pausing, Halep added: “But I will not stop this. I will go forward and I will get extra motivation with something else, for sure.”

Halep does not want to be a one-Slam wonder.

Nor should she be considered a candidate for that kind of career.

She has a rare combination of speed, power and stamina that makes her dangerous on every surface.

There’s a reason Halep has made it to the final at Roland Garros and the Australian Open, and the semifinals at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, where play begins July 2.

Inevitably, the topic of the All England Club and its grass courts was raised at Halep’s post-match news conference.

“Oh, don’t ask me that, because I’m going to have a big holiday now,” she joked. “Nothing changes, obviously. I’m a Grand Slam champion, but tomorrow is a new day, so I have to start again.”

 

Rafael Nadal will play in new Davis Cup format

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MADRID — Gerard Pique is not worried about the possible absence of some top players in the revamped Davis Cup, especially since Rafael Nadal has said he will play in the new-look competition when it debuts next year.

The Barcelona defender, who spearheads the company behind the new format of the Davis Cup, said Wednesday that Nadal has told him he will play as long as he is not injured.

“If the No. 1 in the world is playing, that’s more than enough,” Pique said in the official presentation of Madrid as host of the Davis Cup finals for the next two years. “Rafa is very positive about this event, especially because it is taking place in Madrid.”

The new event was developed in a partnership between the International Tennis Federation and the investment group Kosmos, which was founded by the Barcelona and Spain player.

Pique said he knows it will not be easy to have all top-ranked players participating.

“This is a team event, so it’s impossible to have all the top players involved. Some teams won’t qualify, not everybody will be able to play anyway,” Pique said. “Of course we would like to have the top players, but we want to focus on the teams.”

Stars such as Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have already hinted they don’t intend to play. Djokovic said the tournament could be competing with the ATP’s World Team Cup, while Federer said the revamped Davis Cup didn’t seem to be designed for him.

Pique said he already didn’t expect Federer to be playing, noting the Swiss veteran has limited his tournament schedule in recent years and might not “have the legs” to play in the Davis Cup again. He said he still hoped to convince Djokovic, though.

“I have a lot of confidence that we can negotiate and the top players will play,” Pique said.

The new format of tennis’ top team event will be a season-ending, 18-team tournament, but teams will still play matches in February to advance to the championship in November. The Davis Cup has previously been played over four weekends throughout the year.

The first championship will be held next year from Nov. 18-24 on an indoor hardcourt at the Magic Box arena, which already hosts the Madrid Masters. The ITF said players will compete for prize money that will rival what is offered in Grand Slams.

Pique said there is no “perfect date” for the tournament as the tennis calendar is very tight, but he was happy with the week they picked.

“We’ve spoken with everybody,” he said. “We think this is a week that won’t affect any of the other tournaments. We want to be well seen in the tennis world. We are here to help. We think this will be a magical week for the world of tennis.”

The 2018 Davis Cup semifinalists – Croatia, France, Spain and the United States – have already secured their spot in next year’s tournament, along with Argentina and Britain.

Defending champion France will host Croatia in the last Davis Cup final in the current format from Nov. 23-25 in Lille.

Stephens, Pliskova both lose at Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW — Sloane Stephens and Karolina Pliskova were both eliminated from the Kremlin Cup on Wednesday, with the latter result ensuring that Elina Svitolina has qualified for the WTA Finals.

The fifth-ranked Pliskova lost to Russian veteran Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 6-2, holding serve only once in the match.

Because of the loss, Svitolina will play in the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore. Pliskova can still qualify, but she could also be overtaken by Kiki Bertens.

The 34-year-old Zvonareva, a former Wimbledon and U.S. Open finalist, will next face Anastasija Sevastova in the quarterfinals. The Latvian beat Yulia Putintseva 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.

Stephens lost to Tunisian qualifier Ons Jabeur 6-3, 6-2. The third-seeded American, who had a first-round bye, lost her opening service games in each set.

Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, secured qualification for the WTA Finals last week after a strong season which included reaching the French Open final.

Jabeur will next face Anett Kontaveit in the quarterfinals. The eighth-seeded Estonian beat Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 7-6 (3).

In the men’s draw, Ricardas Berankis beat Aljaz Bedene 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) to reach the quarterfinals.