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HALEP'S SENTIMENTAL RETURN TO MADRID

2015-4-30


MADRID, Spain - For years she was one of the most promising young stars on the tour - a dominant force in the juniors, quietly creeping up the WTA Rankings year after year. But it was at the Mutua Madrid Open two years ago when Simona Halep, up-and-comer became Simona Halep, world-beater.

In Halep's first few years playing at the WTA level, everyone saw flashes of brilliance - she made three finals, all on clay, including a Premier-level final at Brussels in 2011, right before her beloved French Open. But she was still trying to find her best game, and her week-to-week consistency as well.

Then came the Mutua Madrid Open in 2013. A wildcard into the draw thanks to former ATP World Tour player, fellow Romanian and tournament owner Ion Tiriac, Halep lost a grueling three-setter to Spanish veteran Lourdes Domínguez Lino in the first round - but she found her best game during that loss.

"That match was incredible for me," Halep would say afterwards.

"I played three hours, and after that tournament I thought I could play at a high level."

Playing more aggressively yet more relaxed, Halep's turnaround that day at the Magic Box is best illustrated by the numbers. Before that match she had a career record of 53-64 at the WTA level, and since then she's gone 115-28, picking up her first 11 WTA titles - the biggest of which coming at the Premier Mandatory event at Indian Wells last month - and a slew of big finals, including two massive ones last year at Roland Garros and the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

She was also a win away in Madrid last year, falling to Maria Sharapova in three sets in the final.

"I was very excited to play in the finals of a major tournament as Madrid," Halep told the Mutua Madrid Open's official website this week. "This match, even if I lost it, gave me a lot of confidence.

"I'm looking forward to playing in this wonderful tournament again."

If Halep goes one step further and wins the title this year, it will be the equal-biggest title of her career - it's a Premier Mandatory like Indian Wells, after all. What would that mean to her?

"It would be very emotional to win this trophy," she said.

"The Mutua Madrid Open is a big tournament, almost as important as a Grand Slam. It's more than preparation for Roland Garros. It's a tournament I'd love to have in my record book as a champion."



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