‘It was not easy because of the emotions, the pressure’: Halep kicks off French Open title defense with Tomljanovic win

Reigning Roland Garros champion Simona Halep kicked off her title defense with a tough three set win against Ajla Tomljanovic.

PARIS, France – Reigning Roland Garros champion Simona Halep kicked off her title defense with a tough three set win against Ajla Tomljanovic on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The last time she stepped onto this court, just about 12 months ago, Halep sealed the greatest moment of her career as she won her first Grand Slam after reaching four previous finals. She was the second-ever Romanian to win a Grand Slam after Virginia Ruzici’s feat in 1978.

Now embarking on her first major title defense, Halep faced a tough test in an in-form Tomljanovic, who rallied back from dropping the opening set and had the Romanian on the ropes in the second. Halep emerged victorious, striking 19 winners en route to a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 victory.

“In my opinion, it was a great match,” Halep told press afterward. “The level was great, and actually her level in the second set was really high. So I had to be focused more on myself to find out what I have to play better in the third set to be able to win.

“Of course it was not easy because of the emotions, the pressure, but it’s always nice to go back on that court.”

Halep, also a runner-up here in 2014 and 2017, looked right at home on Court Philippe-Chatrier, and she got off to a dominating start to lead 3-0 with an early break. She had little trouble reading Tomljanovic’s shots, and she used her speed to cover the court and return everything with interest. A second break at 6-4 sealed the set.

But things weren’t quite so straightforward for the former World No.1 in the second set as Tomljanovic finally got going. The Australian player cut down on her unforced error count and kept the points short, finding the inroads into the Halep serve. She was rewarded with her first break of the match at 2-1, and extended her lead to a double break for 5-2.

Halep didn’t make it easy for Tomljanovic, breaking back to extend her stay in the set at 5-3. She brought them to deuce in the next game, but Tomljanovic ripped a backhand down the line to claim the second set with another break, 6-3.

Halep carried the momentum she had built up at the end of the second set and started out the third on fire. She fought past the Tomljanovic defense and claimed three breaks of serve in a row, to create a daunting 5-0 lead.

The Aussie grabbed one of the breaks back to make it 5-1 and avoid the dreaded bagel set, but she couldn’t manage to hold serve as Halep powered ahead to take the match after a hard-fought hour and 37 minutes.

“I had different nerves, for sure, because I’m the first time in this position to be the defending champion,” Halep admitted. “But it’s a nice feeling, so I can’t complain. It’s nice to be in this position.

“I don’t put pressure on myself, negative pressure. Of course I feel the pressure, because I have also expectations for myself. I always play well here, so I want also this year to be the same. But I’m not going to put pressure on myself for the result.

“…For the moment, I just want to enjoy my victory from today.”

Up next, Halep will take on Magda Linette in the second round. The Pole need three sets to dismiss French wildcard Chloe Paquet, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 to advance.

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