Defending French Open Champion Simona Halep returned to her beloved clay proving ground that delivered her a long-awaited first Grand Slam last year, but she hit a lull when she dropped a set to Ajla Tomljanovic.
Halep ultimately asserted herself in the third set, and Tomljanovic’s powerful ground game started producing a barrage of errors, as the Romanian prevailed 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.
But it wasn’t an easy stroll down the Champs–Élysées that Halep would have liked for a first-round match. She had to dig in and use her best grinding to stop the Croatian-born Tomljanovic, who’s been playing better since not being spotted with Nick Kyrgios’ much anymore. That would be a weight off anyone’s shoulders.
But the free-swinging Tomljanovic’s attacking style was no match for Halep’s sky-high shot tolerance, impeccable footwork and consistent backhand. Tomljanovic, who plays under the Australian flag, is streaky. When things are going well, she’s got huge power. When it’s not, she goes off the rails. For the match, she committed 30 unforced errors to Halep’s 22.
After the second set, Halep observed, “I started to feel if I make her move, it will be better for me.” As the superior mover, it’s an area of the game the World #8 knows well.
But the biggest thing for Halep was her attitude. Former coach Darren Cahill told her to improve her attitude, or he threatened to bail on her. Ultimately he left on good terms, but his time with her made her more accountable to herself. The tantrums and pity parties have stopped, and when she drops a set like she did to Tomljanovic, she’s able to collect herself and surge forward.
“It was not easy for me because of the emotions,” said Halep of being back on Court Philippe Chatrier. “I need to be calm and really focused on my game. I feel I’ve improved a lot this year. I’m a different person. I’m a better person.”
Losing the set was a blip– but perhaps it will teach Halep more about her newfound patience with herself and she begins her quest to defend her title.
“If you have a tough match, it will get you ‘into’ the tournament,” Halep observed. “Today was not a long match, but it was an intense match.”