No champagne to celebrate but Halep pleased with birthday present

PARIS (Reuters) - Simona Halep had to stay in her hotel room in Paris on her 29th birthday drinking a celebratory bottle of water due to COVID-19 protocols but the Romanian was pleased to earlier have gifted herself the “perfect present” at the French Open on Sunday.

Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros, Paris, France - September 27, 2020. Romania's Simona Halep celebrates after winning her first round match against Spain's Sara Sorribes Tormo REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Playing the first women’s match under the newly-built roof at the Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros, the top-seeded Halep overcame an early challenge from Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo to sail into the second round with a 6-4 6-0 victory.

Halep had found herself trailing 4-2 against an opponent she had never faced before figuring out her opponent and not losing another game.

“The perfect present was that I won today,” Halep, who won her first Grand Slam at the 2018 French Open, told reporters.

“It was really a special day playing at Roland Garros on my birthday. So it’s going to be pretty unique maybe forever. I cannot celebrate much, because I have to stay in the room, so I will have a bottle of water.

“Yeah, just enjoying the time. I will speak with my very close ones and loved ones. Just that. Nothing special. After the tournament, I will.”

This year’s French Open was pushed back from its May-June date due to the pandemic and weather conditions are therefore much colder in Paris, making the claycourts even slower.

Halep was happy that she managed to adjust her game after initially struggling a bit.

“At the beginning I just wanted to be aggressive and to hit the balls everywhere,” she said. “But she was so strong on the legs, and she didn’t miss at all.

“Then I just started to open the court better, to go slower, and to work for every ball, which I did very well. And dropshots.

“The fact that I could change the tactic a little bit during the match, it makes me very pleased with the victory.”

The Romanian has won her last three tournaments and could wrest back the world number one ranking from Australian Ash Barty if she lifts a second French Open title next month.

Halep feels she has changed a lot during the last 12 months.

“I think I improved a lot,” she said. “I’m more mature on the court. Am I more calm? Yeah, I feel very good on court. I’m relaxed. I’m just trying to give my best every time. Actually, I don’t give up any points.”

Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Ian Chadband