SYDNEY — No. 1-ranked Simona Halep returns to competitive tennis this week at the Sydney International unsure if her back injury has fully healed.
It will be the first time Halep has played since the French Open champion ended her season in October due to a herniated disc in her back.
And while the injury didn’t require surgery, Halep, who has previously battled similar injuries during her junior years, has spent much of the past three months off the court.
“It was very scary because it was below the back, so it’s always dangerous. But I had treatment at home,” Halep said while sailing around Sydney Harbour on Sunday.
“I rested for about six weeks and I did nothing, just exercises for the back. I didn’t have pain while I was practicing this period, off-season. So now I feel confident and it’s OK. But I need to see during the official match.”
Halep got off to a strong start last year, reaching the Australian Open final (losing to Caroline Wozniacki) and claiming her first Grand Slam title in Paris (beating Sloane Stephens) before losing her final four matches of the season, including a first-round defeat at the U.S. Open.
She will start the season without a coach after Australian Darren Cahill said in November he wanted to spend more time with his family. Cahill, who has spent the past four years with Halep, is taking a 12-month break.
The 27-year-old Halep said she will not consider a new coach for at least the next few months.
“(He) was a very big part of my career and I want to thank him for that,” she said. “Together we won the Grand Slam that we always wished for. It’s going to be tough, I’m sure. … but he decided this and I fully understood because family comes first always.”
With a bye in the first round in Sydney, Halep will meet either Jelena Ostapenko or Ashleigh Barty in the second round before a possible quarterfinal against Karolina Pliskova.