By Rory Carroll
NEWYORK (Reuters) – Romania’s French Open champion Simona Halep finally feels like the real world number one after winning her maiden Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in June, helping bring joy back to her game that has at times tormented her.
The 26-year-old first reached the top last October but lost the spot 16 weeks later having not hoisted a Grand Slam trophy.
She also suffered some heartbreaking and high-profile defeats, including a shocking upset in the 2017 French Open final to Latvia’s unseeded newcomer Jelena Ostapenko.
But the gritty, defensive-minded Halep regrouped and earned enough WTA tour points to regain the number one position in February before claiming Grand Slam glory on the red clay.
“Definitely my dream came true,” she told reporters on Friday ahead of next week’s U.S. Open, where she is top seed.
“Inside myself something changed. I’m more relaxed. I feel thankful for everything I achieved,” she said.
“These two were my dreams, to be number one in the world and to win a Grand Slam. Always I say number one in the world without a Grand Slam, you are not a real number one.”
“After the French Open, I really started to believe that I’m a real number one.”
Halep can relax even more knowing that she has amassed enough points to ensure her world number one spot is safe no matter the outcome at the U.S. Open.
But a bruising draw could produce a tough path to a possible second major title.
Her quarter includes American sisters Serena and Venus Williams, who have 30 Grand Slam titles between them.
And Halep’s first-round opponent is the dangerous Estonian Kaia Kanepi, who made the quarter-finals last year and has been ranked as high as world number 15.
“It’s very tough draw for sure,” she said. “It’s going to be a big challenge. Last year I lost in the first round, so it cannot be worse than that. You know, I feel confident.”
The U.S. Open begins on Monday.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)