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HODGKINSON: OPTIMISTIC HALEP HAS COME LONG WAY

Improving her attitude has been a key factor in Simona Halep's continued rise up the rankings this year.


Look between Simona Halep's ears, Tracy Austin said. It's there, according to Austin, that Halep's transformation began - and this is a transformation that will see the Romanian make her debut at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

Halep wouldn't have qualified for the season finale for the first time - and she was the third to earn her place, after Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova - if she hadn't changed her approach to her tennis. Negativity can destroy a tennis player from within; this year, Halep has been much more positive about her game, giving her clarity of thought during any tricky moments.

"So much of it is between the ears. First of all, her attitude on court is a lot more positive," Austin said of Halep, whose results this year have demonstrated that tennis is fundamentally a mental game. "She used to be too negative with herself, and that would feed into her game. You can't think clearly when you're being negative. So this year she's been able to stay a lot more calm on court, and a lot more positive."

In addition to reaching a first Grand Slam final at the French Open, where she played a fine match against Sharapova, she also won title in Doha and Bucharest, reached the final in Madrid, made the last eight at the Australian Open and played in the semifinals at Wimbledon. With the margins so small at the top of the game, Austin said having confidence in yourself can prove to be the difference between victory and defeat.

"With all the wins that Simona has had this season, she's developed great belief," said Austin, a former champion at the WTA Finals, who will be playing in the inaugural WTA Legends Event in Singapore.. "She now believes that she belongs at the top. When you're at the top of the game, the margins are so tiny, and she has all the attributes to be among the top players."

On any surface - hard, clay or grass - Halep can be, and has been, a menace. At a time when tennis players seem to be getting taller and taller with every passing month, it's been fun to watch a player who stands at 5-foot-6 become such a force.

You don't have to wait for the official photograph of the elite eight grouped together to know that Halep will be the shortest player in Singapore. Four of the other seven singles players - Sharapova, Petra Kvitova, Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki - are 6 foot or taller, while Williams is 5-foot-9 (and no one has ever accused her of lacking physical presence on a tennis court), Agnieszka Radwanska is 5-foot-8, and Eugenie Bouchard is 5-foot-10.

"Without a doubt, not being tall is a disadvantage," said Austin, who is herself an inch shorter than Halep. "But Simona is such a great athlete that she makes up for that lack of height with her speed, her competitiveness around the court, and her smart shot selection. She's a tremendous athlete, who can play tremendous defense. There are so many things that she does well that she's able to make up for that disadvantage."

Most significantly of all, Halep trusts in her talent.

Mark Hodgkinson is a tennis writer based in London. His new book, 'Game, Set and Match', will be published by Bloomsbury in 2015.




 

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