CNN

At this time last year, Simona Halep was on the verge of retirement.

The former women’s world No. 1 had announced her withdrawal from the 2021 edition of Roland-Garros due to a calf injury. Later that season, she also postponed Wimbledon and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“I felt exhausted and I felt like there was no chance I could be on top anymore,” Halep told CNN Sport’s Christina Macfarlane in an exclusive interview with her new coach, Patrick Mouratoglou. “It was really hard to see the bright side of things.”

After dropping out of the coveted world top 10 for the first time since January 2014, Halep fell in love with tennis.

However, since she started working with Mouratoglou earlier this year, Halep says her passion for the sport has been rekindled.

“I didn’t really expect that because I’m not very open to people and it’s not easy for me to trust someone. But it was just a great connection from the first moment I met him,” Halep says of Mouratoglou.

“I was almost done before I came here because I didn’t have that fire anymore and I wasn’t confident in my ability to play at the highest level again. So coming here I found it and I rediscovered why I play tennis,” she adds. “I play tennis because I love it…He brought that fire back.”

In April, Mouratoglou announcement on social media that he would start coaching Halep full-time, after she visited his prestigious training academy in France ahead of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California.

“I always love watching her play. I think she has an amazing game, so she’s super exciting as a player,” Mouratoglou told CNN Sport. “She was already playing great, but she could play a lot more. I could see the progress she could make.

Known by his nickname, “The Coach”, Mouratoglou is one of the most sought after tennis instructors.

He started coaching in 2005, working with Marcos Baghdatis on the junior circuit and helping him become world No. 1 in youth, according to his official website.

A year later, Baghdatis reached the Australian Open final before losing to Roger Federer and also reached the Wimbledon semi-final that same season.

Since then, Mouratoglou has helped a range of promising young players raise their game, including Grigor Dimitrov, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and most notably 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, the website adds.

The secret of his success? “Of course, passion is the most important. (If) the players don’t have the passion, they won’t achieve anything great,” Mouratolgou said. “So that’s the key.”

“People in their lives also go through times where they maybe lose their love for the game for a while or have less love for the game,” he adds. “I don’t think she (Halep) lost it.”

Tennis students train at the Mouratoglou Academy in Biot, southeastern France, on September 23, 2021.

Even though Romania’s Halep has 23 singles titles to her name – including two Grand Slam victories – she has had to adapt to a particularly rigorous form of drilling at Mouratoglou Academy.

She spent two weeks starting a new workout routine at 8:30 a.m., which she told reporters she “never did in my life,” the WTA reported.

“I did it with pleasure and I did it easily. It made me think that I still love it and I can still do it. So if I’m healthy, I think I can have a good game,” she added, according to the WTA website.

Along with her physical rehabilitation, Halep worked with Mouratoglou to rebuild her confidence.

“He’s super open, so it’s super easy to talk to him,” she told CNN. “I am very emotional. I have a lot of fears in general and I doubt myself most of the time. And it was easy for me to express myself as I am.

When Mouratoglou appeared on the Netflix series, “The Playbook”, in September 2020, he explained how a player’s mental toughness can make or break their ability to become a champion.

The series follows world-renowned sports coaches as they share their personal rules for success inside and outside the arena.

Simona Halep shares lighthearted moments with coach Patrick Mouratoglou during preparation for Roland Garros on May 18, 2022 in Paris, France.

“Everyone has limits, and everyone’s limits are not technical, tactical, physical. They are mental,” Mouratoglou told the documentary.

“And when you don’t think like a champion, you don’t act like a champion and win like a champion. It is therefore very important to ensure that the mind is functioning properly.

Mouratoglou told CNN he has a similar approach to rebuilding a player’s psychological resilience as legendary soccer coach José Mourinho, who also appeared in the Netflix series.

“He said something like, ‘Football starts with the foot, continues with the heart and ends with the head. “”

“The head is the most important…because if you don’t deeply believe that you can achieve something, you’re not going to flourish. You are going halfway. You will find reasons not to do things. You will find excuses,” says Mouratoglou.

“I think a big part of my job is to help people, in this case Simona, believe in themselves and their ability to achieve what they want,” he adds. “I always tell Simona how strong she is mentally because I really believe in that.

“She made my job super easy, in a way, by being so open and trusting me so much.”

Mouratoglou is no stranger to reinventing players who have hit rock bottom.

In 2012, he reached a turning point in his career, when he began coaching Williams, who had just suffered an unprecedented defeat at Roland Garros against Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano. It was the first time in Williams’ career that she had lost in the first round of a major competition.

Serena Williams trains with her coach Patrick Mouratoglou ahead of the 2020 French Open at Roland Garros on September 26, 2020.

She was also in search of a Grand Slam victory, having gone two years without winning a major tournament.

Mouratoglou and Williams were dubbed the “Dynamic Duo” on tour and ended up winning 10 Grand Slams together, as well as a women’s singles title at the London 2012 Olympics.

“I’m super proud of what we’ve done with Serena. Now, of course, I’m very grateful for these 10 years which have been incredible,” says Mouratoglou. not seen very often in the world of tennis.”

Williams hasn’t played since withdrawing from her Wimbledon first-round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich in June 2021, in which she injured her leg.

“It’s not easy to tell someone you’ve worked with for 10 years that you’re going to start something with someone else,” adds Mouratoglou. “It’s a 10-year relationship…where you share so many things and so many emotions and so many moments.”

When Mouratoglou and Halep speak to CNN, they are preparing for Roland Garros, where the 30-year-old Romanian is due to face Croatian Ana Konjuh in the first round on Sunday.

Halep has fond memories of Roland Garros, winning her first Grand Slam title in Paris after beating Sloane Stephens in 2018.

“The French Open is my favorite grand slam,” she says. “I love the city. I feel good. I like the atmosphere. So everything is falling into place and I feel good. It’s going to be a big challenge, this tournament, for me. I am mentally ready. I am ready to give the best of myself.

“I really thought I would be done at 30,” Halep says. “I was wrong.”

“I want to play for a few more years. I feel like I can,” she adds. “My body is fine. You know, I feel healthy. I feel like my energy level is high. So I don’t see any reason to stop now.

Simona Halep kisses the trophy as she celebrates winning after the women's singles final against Sloane Stephens in the French Open final on June 9, 2018 in Paris, France.

However, there is one player who could stand in the way of a third Grand Slam title for Halep.

Poland’s Iga Swiatek has enjoyed a meteoric rise to become world No. 1 over the past year.

In April, she clinched her fourth straight title of the 2022 season in the Stuttgart Open final, extending her winning streak to 23 games.

At just 20 years old, Swiatek showed no signs of hesitating. If she wins the French Open, she will equal Venus Williams’ record this millennium of 35 successive victories.

“Over the past month, Iga has shown a lot of physical, mental and tennis stability. She’s super solid in everything. That’s why she’s won so much. But I think everyone is beatable,” Mouratoglou says.

And Mouratoglou is confident that Halep’s mental toughness could rival Swiatek.

“She’s also a great player, but what makes her special is the fact that she’s extremely strong mentally,” he said. “I feel that she also believes in herself and that the combination can work wonders.”



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