Why Simona Halep Could Take It A Step Further At The French Open

PARIS -- Simona Halep walked onto the red clay of Court Philippe Chatrier, where one year ago she battled Maria Sharapova in hopes of winning her first Grand Slam title. That three-hour fight in the final did not end well for Halep, who lost in three sets.

Before this year's French Open started, Halep said she wouldn't be thinking about that match -- "Last year is last year'' -- but she said Sunday it wasn't easy stepping back onto the clay for the 2015 tournament's first match on the court.

"It was tough,'' she said after beating Evgeniya Rodina 7-5, 6-4. "But, you know, I was enjoying it a lot. I tried just to be focused for what I have to do on court to play my game. Many people came, and it was really nice, the atmosphere. You know, it was a great day for me. I just want to enjoy it.''

Still looking for her first Slam title, Halep has won three tournaments this season, at Shenzhen, Dubai and Indian Wells. She reached the semifinal in Miami against Serena Williams (losing in three sets). She hasn't won a clay-court tournament yet this season, reaching the semifinals at Rome and Stuttgart and losing in the first round to Alize Cornet at Madrid. Her next opponent is Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who beat Halep in their only previous meeting, last year at the US Open.

Nonetheless, the third-seeded Halep is one of the favorites to win here and says she is feeling good.

"I'm stronger, I think, mentally, and I'm stronger, as well, on court,'' Halep said. "I feel stronger -- I have a stronger body, I have improved a lot in my game. Serve is better, so I feel more confident now with my game.''

This was the first time Halep faced Rodina, who didn't go down easily.

"It was a tough match, because it was the first round and it's always difficult to start the tournament,'' Halep said. "But, you know, she played well. She's playing well. I did feel [I made] easy mistakes, but it's normal and I accept that. Next round I will be better, for sure.''

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