A coach-less Simona Halep is embracing her new sense of “freedom” as she gets ready for the upcoming Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships without a mentor in her corner.
The two-time Dubai champion has recently parted ways with her coaches Daniel Dobre and Adrian Marcu and is flying solo for the time being, keen to experience the tour on her own for a while.
Halep, who begins her bid for a third title in Dubai against American wildcard Alison Riske in the opening round, had a long and successful coaching partnership with Australian Darren Cahill before announcing a split last September.
The two-time Grand Slam winner, who started 2022 by lifting a WTA trophy in Melbourne prior to her fourth-round exit at the Australian Open, reunited with Dobre and Marcu – whom she had worked with in the past – but the agreement did not last long and the Romanian is now taking on a new responsibility of coaching herself at tournaments.
“I don’t have a coach right now, I have a sparring partner and he’s travelling with me these days. I didn’t take a decision about the coaching. I’m not looking for a coach, I’m just enjoying my time alone and hopefully I can do a good job,” Halep, 30, told The National in Dubai.
“I feel a little bit of freedom, so I think I have to enjoy this moment. I won’t say it’s the best situation but I’m looking forward to experiencing it and to see how it goes.”
Halep, who missed three months in 2021 due to a calf injury, dropped out of the world’s top 20 at the end of last season for the first time since 2013 and is ranked No 22 this week.
Asked if she’ll now be doing her own scouting at tournaments to make sure she is well-prepared for her opponents, Halep said: “No. I know all the girls and I trust myself that I know how to play some matches.”
Dubai draw produces big match-ups
A host of thrilling match-ups were revealed during Saturday’s draw ceremony with eight of the world’s top 10 competing in Dubai this upcoming week.
Defending champion and No 4 seed Garbine Muguruza faces a daunting opener against recent Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins, with the winner of that clash advancing to a second round against former world No 1 Victoria Azarenka or Veronika Kudermetova.
World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka is the top seed and could square off with 2013 Dubai champion Petra Kvitova in the second round.
Kvitova must first move past Italian big-hitter Camila Giorgi in what is just one of several mouthwatering opening rounds in Dubai this year.
In a battle of former Grand Slam champions, 2020 Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin opens against 2017 Roland Garros winner Jelena Ostapenko, with the victor moving on to a second round against either No 6 seed Iga Swiatek or 2018 Dubai runner-up Daria Kasatkina.
Two top-20 ranked Americans, Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula, will face off in the first round while last year’s Dubai finalist and French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova tackles French wildcard Caroline Garcia in her opener.
The Arab world is represented in No 8 seed Ons Jabeur and Egyptian wildcard Mayar Sherif, who play Vera Zvonareva and Anett Kontaveit respectively in their first rounds.
Two-time Dubai champion Elina Svitolina was also present at the draw ceremony and she will have to wait until the qualifying rounds are over to find out who she will face in her opening clash. Svitolina is one of just three women to claim back-to-back titles in Dubai, having triumphed in 2017 and 2018.
“I think the best memories I have in Dubai are when I won the tournament for the first time in 2017. When I won the final I entered the top-10 for the first time, so that was really special for me,” the Ukrainian said.