MELBOURNE: World number two Simona Halep’s preparations for the Australian Open were hampered by a long-standing Achilles injury and now the Romanian has picked up a cold just days before her campaign for the year’s first grand slam begins.
The 24-year-old withdrew from the Brisbane International last week because of the injury, which also affected her 2015 campaign, but she reached the semi-finals in Sydney on Friday.
Her fitness was given a thorough test against Svetlana Kuznetsova in a tight, two hour, 45-minute contest before she exited the tournament 7-6(5) 4-6 6-3.
Then came the sniffles.
“I’m a little bit sick, cold, yeah, with my nose,” she told reporters on Sunday. “Is nothing dangerous. Is normal. From the air conditioning.”
Halep, who faces China‘s Zhang Shuai in the first round on Tuesday, added that her Achilles was now “much better” and that she had played without pain for several days.
“I feel ready to start and hopefully to be healthy till the end,” she said. “I come here without expectations. I have only (played) one tournament before this grand slam.
“Actually I feel good. I feel confident.”
After a breakthrough year in 2014 when she made her first grand slam final at Roland Garros and won two tournaments, Halep consolidated her rise by claiming titles at Shenzhen, Dubai and Indian Wells.
Her Achilles troubled her during the season, however, and she also withdrew from the Toronto final after becoming ill due to the sweltering conditions.
Halep was upset by lower-ranked opponents in each of the grand slams and her best result was making the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows.
Her side of the draw at Melbourne Park is relatively worry free until the fourth round, however, where she could face hard-hitting American Madison Keys or former world number one Ana Ivanovic.
Garbine Muguruza or twice champion Victoria Azarenka potentially stand in her way in the semi-finals, and while there has been speculation that defending champion Serena Williams’s knees may be giving her trouble, Halep thought the American would still be tough.
“I think she (is) strong enough,” when asked if she felt the American could produce her top form at Melbourne Park. “I know how is to be injured. Is not easy to train. You cannot be 100 percent on court.
“But if you play pain free, you can come back fast (and) I think the tournament is open.
“Everyone has a chance to win this title.”