MELBOURNE, Australia — Simona Halep was making an attempt on her new footwear when she bought the information direct from the draw about her robust part containing each Serena Williams and Venus Williams on the Australian Open.

Even earlier than she contemplates attainable back-to-back matches within the third and fourth spherical towards Venus and Serena, the top-ranked Halep has to get by way of a gap match towards Kaia Kanepi, who beat her within the first spherical on the U.S. Open final yr.

Darren Cahill, a TV commentator and Halep’s coach till not too long ago, texted her with particulars of the draw.

“After I noticed the message, I used to be like, ‘OK, no matter,’” she mentioned. “I simply benefit from the second with the footwear, then I’ll take into consideration the match. That’s it.”

She will be able to do this now that she considers herself a real No. 1. Halep entered final yr with the highest rating however with no main to her credit score.

After dropping a three-set last to Caroline Wozniacki on the Australian Open, Halep briefly misplaced the No. 1 spot however regained it rapidly and can be into her 48th consecutive week within the prime spot when the season’s first main begins. Her breakthrough on the French Open gave her all of the affirmation she’d ever wanted.

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“It’s a giant distinction — I can say inside myself as a result of I did what I wished to do. I gained a Grand Slam lastly. Now I can say I’m an actual No. 1,” Halep mentioned of the distinction between her approaches to this season and to final. “Earlier than I mentioned with no Grand Slam, you aren’t an actual No. 1.

“I’m glad. I’m having fun with the time. The whole lot I’ve finished final yr made me be extra relaxed. I strive simply to enhance extra in my recreation.”

Halep, hampered by a again harm, misplaced 4 straight matches to complete 2018. She then was crushed by Ashleigh Barty on the Sydney Worldwide to start out this season, however she says her again is ok. She’s additionally with no coach in Melbourne, an appointment she’s taking time to think about.

U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka looms as a possible semifinal rival for Halep, or Serena Williams, or whoever comes out of the robust prime quarter.

Rather a lot has modified for Osaka since capturing her first main title in New York final September, having by no means even reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam occasion.

Her victory there was overshadowed to a level by Serena Williams’ conflict with chair umpire Carlos Ramos through the last and subsequent $17,000 nice.

Williams missed the final Australian Open — she gained right here in 2017 whereas pregnant — after having a child. However she reached two main finals after returning to tennis. Regardless of being seeded 16th, she stays a powerful contender to win her 24th Grand Slam singles title.

Osaka, in the meantime, is studying as she goes.

The 21-year-old mentioned she’s barely awkward in one-on-one conversations, however feels extra at dwelling answering questions and throwing in one-liners at packed information conferences.

As for her targets right here, in a ladies’s area that has featured eight main winners throughout the previous two years, Osaka mentioned it’s a piece in progress, beginning along with her first-round towards Magda Linette on Tuesday.

“Nobody needs to lose within the first spherical of a Slam,” she mentioned. “From there, I’ve been within the third spherical 100 million occasions (in actuality it’s 9 occasions) already. That may be my subsequent purpose. Hopefully semis after that. Then I can take into consideration, like, the finals and successful.”


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