At the Citi Open, Simona Halep wins the first match after Wimbledon

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Patrick Mouratoglou, the coach whom Simona Halep has trusted since she hired him in April, was not present on Monday when the former world No. 1 opened the game at the Citi Open.

It was Halep’s first match since her Wimbledon semi-final loss to eventual champion Elena Rybakina on July 7. It was also the Romanian’s first game on a hard court since March, as well as a game with a Spanish qualifier, Cristina, 24. Bucsa, she had never faced him.

So after squandering a 5-2 lead in the second set as his energy waned and his focus wandered, third-seeded Halep channeled Mouratoglou’s voice.

“At 5-all, I thought to myself what he actually tells me when I have moments of panic during games,” Halep explained after overcoming the rocky patch to advance, 6-3, 7-5 . “Calm down and do what I have to do. Just focus on what I have to do and be brave to do it, even if sometimes I miss.

Halep, 30, is one of three top-ranked former players who made their bids for a Citi Open title on Monday, hoping to use Washington’s late-summer classic to reclaim their training on hard court and acclimating to the heat and humidity of the East Coast ahead of the US Open, which begins Aug. 29 in New York.

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Andy Murray, the 35-year-old who was ranked No. 1 for 41 weeks in 2016 and 2017, also chose the Citi Open for his comeback after a second-round loss to American John Isner at Wimbledon.

Three-time Grand Slam champion Murray took on Sweden’s Mikael Ymer, 23, in a first-round match that began when Monday’s temperatures were at their highest, with the sun beating directly on Stadium Court at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center. After failing to convert four set points in the opening set, Murray threw his racquet into the net in frustration and lost the tiebreaker that settled it. After nearly three hours of hard knocks, Ymer, ranked 115th, pulled off an upset 7-6 (10-8), 4-6, 6-1.

And seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, 42, was due to play her first singles match in nearly a year on Monday night.

For the three former No. 1 players, who have 12 Grand Slam titles among them, the battle to stay relevant in big tournaments is a process of continuous improvement. Tennis is changing – and champions can’t afford to stand still as their opponents get younger, bigger, stronger and able to give and absorb more pace.

Sometimes that means tearing down once-reliable shots and re-equipping them. Other times it means rethinking strategy and discarding predictable patterns.

In Halep’s case, almost every facet of her life – on and off the pitch – has changed over the past 10 months.

She got married in September. The following week, she and longtime coach Darren Cahill, with whom she won the 2018 French Open and 2019 Wimbledon titles, went their separate ways.

After competing during a period without a coach, Halep announced on social media in April that she had hired Mouratoglou, known primarily as the coach of Serena Williams, who was in the midst of a long hiatus from competition.

“I’m thrilled,” Halep said after Monday’s victory, listing the wave of changes in her life. ” But it’s not easy. That’s why I always try to be kind to myself, to give time to get used to everything. … I always thought inside myself that I had to be more aggressive. But now, with someone who really believes that, with Patrick, it gives me more confidence than I’m capable of.

Halep praised Mouratoglou, who also served as a consultant for Stefanos Tsitsipas and Coco Gauff, crediting him for rejuvenating his passion for tennis during their collaboration.

“He gives me time,” she said earlier this year. ” He is patient. He supports me in everything I do. He tries to understand me because I think that’s the main thing I want from a coach – to understand me – because I’m pretty emotional most of the time.

That said, her French Open result – a second-round loss to unseeded Qinwen Zheng – was not what she had hoped for.

Mouratoglou was quick to take the blame, posting on social media that he needed to be better. Halep rallied to his defense.

“It wasn’t about him,” she told reporters at Wimbledon. “That was me – that I wasn’t able to do better and calm down when I panicked. But that was new for me too, and I wasn’t good enough.

At 35, Andy Murray fights back, driven by a love of tennis and hard work

Returning to the pitch on Monday after a four-week hiatus from competition, Halep looked rested and fit as she entered Stadium Court in a crop top and periwinkle skirt.

But she and Bucsa, 24, struggled to find range on their groundstrokes and traded breaks of serve on a bevy of unforced errors early on. Bucsa dug in after conceding the first set and trailing 5-2 in the second.

That’s when the voice of Mouratoglou, who plans to join Halep for the North American hard-court swing this month at the Western & Southern Open outside of Cincinnati, came into play. .

“I’m in touch with him all the time,” Halep said. “He’s kind of here, but not here. … We talk a lot about what I have to do. But now I know what I have to do. … I don’t feel alone here.

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