Harry Potter and radical surgery take Halep into big time
Romania's Simona Halep returns to Spain's Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor during their French Open third round match at Roland Garros in Paris on May 31, 2014 - by Dominique Faget
The 22-year-old made the fourth round of the French Open on Saturday for the first time with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Spain's Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor.
She had already made the last 16 at the US Open in 2013 and followed that up with a first quarter-final appearance at a major in Australia this year.
Six of her seven career titles came last year while this year Halep has taken the Doha crown and was runner-up to Maria Sharapova on clay in Madrid.
She is undoubtedly a player in a rich vein of form.
But her early years as a professional were not so promising as she struggled to translate the form that brought her the 2008 world junior number one spot and the Roland Garros girls title in the same year to the senior ranks.
Halep's first major change came on an operating table when she was 18 and opted for breast reduction surgery to take her from 34DD to a 34C to aid her movement around the court.
Since then, she has rarely looked back and insists she is not surprised either by her form over the last 18 months or her smooth progress in Paris where she has lost just 11 games in three rounds.
"The top three seeds (Serena Williams, Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska) all lost, that's a surprise for everyone," she said.
"But for me to be here it's not a surprise, because I'm more confident now in myself.
"I did the quarter-finals in the Australian Open, and now it is not something new for me. I'm trying to do my best always and to fight for every match. I'm happy to be for first time in the fourth round in Paris. I hope it will not be the first and the last."
Voted the WTA's Most Improved Player in 2013, Halep has also had to get used to dealing with the international media and is turning to the Harry Potter novels to help her brush up on her English skills.
"I want to improve more. I speak better than last year, but I still have to learn. Now I speak more with my coach in English, and it's good. Now I started to read a book in English -- Harry Potter," she said.
Halep, who goes on to face America's Sloane Stephens for a quarter-final spot, is also fiercely proud of her Romanian roots -- she still lives in Constanta and is managed by compatriot Virginia Ruzici, the 1978 French Open champion.
Former Romania players Ilie Nastase and Ion Tiriac are regular supporters in Paris.
"Yes, Virginia won here in Paris a lot of years ago," she joked as she insisted that she has no desire to follow her rivals to the the warm weather hideaways of Florida or the French Riviera.
"I love my country. I feel good there, and we have good coaches. I am 100% made from Romania, and I'm really happy."