SOFIA (Reuters) - Unheralded Romanian Simona Halep is vowing to keep the fun factor in her game following her victory in the Tournament of Champions on Sunday at the end of a breakthrough season on the women’s tour.
The 22-year-old won the season-ending event in Sofia on Sunday, beating former U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur 2-6 6-2 6-2 in a thrilling final to cap a remarkable six months which has lifted her to number 11 in the world rankings.
After a mediocre start to the year, Halep caught fire in June, winning titles at Nurnberg, Den Bosch and Budapest, then adding crowns at New Haven and Moscow to become the only player to taste success on three different surfaces this season.
With increasing success comes more expectation, but Halep, who came from 3-0 down in the final set against Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic in the semi-finals, said she was not going to make ambitious plans at the expense of enjoying her time on court.
“Next year will be tough because I’ll have to defend all the points,” Halep, who started the week ranked 14th in the world, told a news conference.
“But I don’t want to make any plans. I won a lot of titles this season, I played really well and it’s not going to be easy next season. I just want to enjoy my time on the WTA tour and to feel the pleasure in every moment on the court.”
Halep’s sixth career title did not come without its problems, however, as she was easily brushed aside in the opening set by Australian Stosur in just 31 minutes.
She found her range in the second and went on to win 20 of the final 26 points, finishing the match with a forehand down the line to clinch the $270,000 prize.
“I felt a little bit nervous at the beginning of the match, Samantha played really well in the first set and dominated me,” hard-hitting Halep said.
“I’m also a little bit injured but in the second set I came back well and I just wanted to hit the ball and win the final.”
Halep showed flashes of brilliance in Sofia, demonstrating her potential to become a serious contender at grand slams.
“To finish the year with a win like this is great for Simona,” said Romanian former world number one Ilie Nastase, one of the hundreds of fans who made the 370-km trip to the Bulgarian capital to support Halep.
“It will give her confidence going into the new year, which begins pretty soon in Australia.”
Halep’s rise in the rankings means she will have to get used to being in the spotlight.
“Yes, there was (a pressure with Nastase being in the stands),” Halep said.
“When I started the match I saw him and I was a little bit nervous I said to myself that he’s here to support me and that helped me.”
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; editing by Josh Reich