The Simona Halep – Darren Cahill combo sure was an effective one. Together, they posted consecutive year-end No. 1 rankings and reached a trio of Grand Slam finals, finally triumphing on the Chatrier clay last year. Under the uber coach/TV commentator, Halep blossomed as a competitor, honing her mental toughness and becoming a more complete player.
But all good things come to an end. Last November, Cahill — a husband/father of two who for years has spent weeks upon weeks on the road — announced that he would discontinue working with the then-top-ranked Romanian in 2019 in order to spend more time with his family.
“I’d like to thank Simona for the last 4 amazing years,” read Cahill’s statement. “She’s a young woman of total class and someone I respect greatly which is something more important than any result achieved…I wish Simo and her team nothing but continued success and I look forward to supporting her from the sidelines next year.”
Halep hired Belgian Thierry Van Cleemput as his replacement, but the partnership was short-lived, lasting only weeks. As a solo act, Help gives herself mixed reviews. By her own admission, she’s not always the disciplinarian she needs to be. Consider the 27-year-old’s run to the Dubai quarterfinals last month. On the morning of her Round of 16 matchup against Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko, Halep’s alarm clock went off at 8 a.m.
She promptly turned it off; then went back to sleep for another two hours. By the time she woke up, she had to go straight to the court for her match.
“If I had a coach, that would have been impossible,” she laughed on Wednesday at the BNP Paribas Open, an event she won in 2015.
Though Halep says she’s not actively seeing a new coach at the moment, she admits she sometimes yearns for Cahill’s presence.
“I miss the voice next to me,” she said. “I miss the advice. I also miss the fact that someone is always behind you, to give you advice.”
But you can bet that after four years with her former Aussie mentor, she still heeds his words.
“I don’t really hear his voice, but [I still take] his advice, for sure,” she explained. “I really think about what he would tell me in similar moments, and I try just to put it into my game. It’s not easy, but I can push my limits. I can improve. It’s never easy without a coach. At this level, it’s nearly impossible. But for a little bit of time, it’s also nice to be alone.”
An Indian Wells semifinalist last year, the No. 2-seeded Halep will open the 2019 event against Czech Barbora Strycova, against whom she’s a lopsided 4-1. Coach or no coach, she’ll go in as the favorite.