Defending champ Halep wary of Sabalenka threat in Rome

Seventh-ranked stunned world number one Ashleigh Barty to win in Madrid for the biggest title of her career

AFP May 10, 2021


Defending Rome champion Simona Halep said Sunday she had not been surprised by Aryna Sabalenka's success at the Madrid Open, and was expecting the Belarusian to challenge again on clay in Italy.

Seventh-ranked Sabalenka stunned world number one Ashleigh Barty to win in Madrid on Saturday for the biggest title of her career.

"It's not surprising," said Halep.

"She's playing great. Very powerful tennis. She has confidence. She can actually do a lot in Grand Slams also, so she's getting closer to that.

"She played the final in Stuttgart, so it's not the first result on clay.

"She's playing really well. Yeah, I think her confidence is very high. I was not surprised, and I'm expecting actually more from her."

Halep will open her title defence in the second round against either Germany's Angelique Kerber or French qualifier Alize Cornet.

The world number three is not in the same half of the draw as Sabalenka, who could meet Barty again in the quarter-finals at the Foro Italico.

But ex-Wimbledon and French Open champion Halep could play former four-time Rome winner Serena Williams or world number two Naomi Osaka in the semi-finals.

"I have no expectations and no pressure about defending my title," continued Halep, who exited in Madrid in the last 16 to Belgian Elise Mertens.

"I don't really have regrets about that. But I can say I need to calm down a little bit, change attitude, not rushing that much and to stop missing in the important moments.

"But those things I think are coming with more matches, so I'm just looking forward to have as many as possible until French Open.

"This tournament is going to be important and taking the pressure away."

Halep finished runner-up in 2017 and 2018 before winning last year, with the tournament pushed back to September because of coronavirus.