Tennis: Holder Halep shrugs off expectations ahead of French Open

Reuters
FILE PHOTO: Tennis - WTA Premier Mandatory - Madrid Open - The Caja Magica, Madrid, Spain - May 11, 2019 Romania's Simona Halep in action during the final against Netherlands' Kiki Bertens REUTERS/Sergio Perez/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: WTA Premier Mandatory - Madrid Open

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - WTA Premier Mandatory - Madrid Open - The Caja Magica, Madrid, Spain - May 11, 2019 Romania's Simona Halep in action during the final against Netherlands' Kiki Bertens REUTERS/Sergio Perez/File Photo

(Reuters) - French Open champion Simona Halep has said won't be burdened by expectations that she can repeat last year's triumph and would rather focus on enjoying the Grand Slam which starts on Sunday.

The 27-year-old Romanian enters Roland Garros as favorite for the title given the contrasting form of some of the top names, including Japan's world number one Naomi Osaka, but her own claycourt preparation has not been spectacular either.

World number three Halep could have knocked Osaka off top spot by winning the Madrid Open earlier this month but lost in straight sets to Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens in the final.

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A few days later, she fell at her first hurdle in the Italian Open, losing to Marketa Vondrousova -- Halep's second defeat by the 19-year-old Czech this year after a three-set loss at Indian Wells.

However, the Romanian said she did not feel any extra pressure to retain her title at Roland Garros.

"I have no expectations because it's the first time when I have to defend a trophy at a Grand Slam," she told Romania's Digi Sport TV station. "(I just want to) be relaxed, enjoy the tournament and try to win some matches. Nothing more!"

ELITE GROUP

Halep has been backed by former French Open champions Mats Wilander and Justine Henin to join an elite group of players in retaining her crown, with three-times men’s champion Wilander saying Halep versus Serena Williams would be "a dream final".

Williams, 37, is battling to be fit for Roland Garros having pulled out of the Italian Open last Tuesday due to a persistent knee injury..

Only five women have successfully defended their titles at the French Open - Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Monica Seles, Steffi Graf and Henin.

Last year Halep finally made it over the line in Paris with a three-set victory over American Sloane Stephens in the final for her maiden Grand Slam title.

The Romanian has special memories of Roland Garros, which is where she won the junior title in 2008 and reached her first major final against Maria Sharapova in 2014.

Halep received medical treatment in the closing stages of the Vondrousova defeat but has shrugged off concerns about her own fitness by declaring herself ready to compete in Paris.

The Romanian even saw some advantages from her early exit in the Italian capital.

"It's also a good thing if you look at the positive side, I needed a few days of relaxation," Halep said. "I rest and hope to have the batteries loaded for Roland Garros."

(Writing by Angel Krasimirov; editing by Ken Ferris)

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