By Samuel Petrequin, Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — Simona Halep is experiencing something new at the French Open this year.
The Romanian player is back in Paris to defend her title, a situation she's never been in before.
And she likes it.
"Much better and much easier, because I have the title already," Halep said Friday at Roland Garros. "Doesn't matter anymore what is going to happen. Everything now comes as a bonus. So I will try just to give my best and to see if I'm able to do it again."
Halep, the second Romanian woman to win a Grand Slam title after Virginia Ruzici in 1978, won the French Open last year by rallying past Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the final. She had previously lost three Grand Slams finals, including two on the French clay.
Before her win, the former top-ranked player often had the unpleasant tendency to crumble on big occasions. Like two years ago in the French Open final, when she led Jelena Ostapenko by a set and 3-0 only to fall apart.
She said her defending champion status takes a lot of pressure off.
"Mentally, I am pretty relaxed," she said. "So I just want to take the positive and to be in this position, I think, is the best thing. I am too happy to be in this position, I have to admit this. But there is nothing bad."
Although she has not won a title this year and lost her first match in Rome last week, Halep is confident she can achieve a deep run in Paris on the back of solid clay-court campaign. She won two Fed Cup matches on the slow surface last month and reached the final in Madrid.
"Even if I didn't win the final, I felt that my level is very high," she said. "I have confidence. Coming here, practicing, I felt really well."
Seeded third in Paris, Halep will open her campaign against Ajla Tomljanovic, a player she beat last year on hard court.
"It's going to be different because it's clay court," Halep said. "But still it's going to be a very tough match. She's powerful. She hits the ball strong. If I am able to do my game, I think I have a good chance to win."