When Simona Halep came to New Haven last year for the New Haven Open tennis tournament, she was unseeded and ranked 23rd in the world. But she was also on a roll, having won 24 of her past 29 matches.
She went 5-for-5 at New Haven, winning her fourth WTA title. Since then, Halep, 22, of Romania has shot quickly to the top of the tennis world.
On Monday, when the new WTA rankings come out, Halep will be ranked No. 2. In a few weeks, she will be back in New Haven defending her title at the newly named Connecticut Open. The tournament at the Connecticut Tennis Center runs from Aug. 15-23.
"I started to play very well last year," Halep said Tuesday on a conference call. "In Nürnburg [Germany], I won my first title [last June]. After that, I believed I can play at a higher level. I wanted to give everything I can and win more matches."
She won tournaments in the Netherlands and Budapest. She made it to the quarterfinals at Cincinnati, where she lost to Serena Williams. She won at New Haven, her biggest victory, beating defending New Haven champion Petra Kvitova 6-2, 6-2 in the final.
She made it to the round of 16 at the U.S. Open. It was there she gained confidence in playing in Grand Slams.
"Before, I couldn't win two matches in a row in a Grand Slam," she said.
Halep became even more confident in her play after advancing to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open earlier this year.
"I started to play very aggressive," she said. "I had more confidence in my mind, my body and my game. I can be in the top 10."
And then it was on to the French Open, where she lost in the final to Maria Sharapova. She made it to the semifinals at Wimbledon, where she lost to Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, who will also play at New Haven.
"I was very happy I could make this big step in my career," Halep said. "It was the best feeling. I feel I can play very well in Grand Slams.
"I believe more in my chances now."
Halep took some time off, heading for a short vacation in Turkey after winning a tournament in Romania at the beginning of July, and is now rested and ready to make a run at the U.S. Open. She will play in Cincinnati before heading to New Haven.
"It will be great to be again in New Haven," Halep said. "The tournament was very nice for me, I played well, I beat good players there, [Caroline] Wozniacki and Kvitova. I feel good. It's nice there. But it's not easy and it will be my second tournament on hard court. I will do everything to win again."
Wozniacki, the four-time champion at New Haven, and Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champ, also will be back for the Connecticut Open.
The tournament is offering a buy one, get one free ticket offer through Friday. Fans can choose from the following sessions: Monday day, Tuesday day or night and Wednesday day. If fans buy tickets online at.ctopen.org, enter the discount promotion code CO14BOGO, or call the box office at 1-855-464-8366.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun