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Holder Halep shrugs off expectations ahead of French Open

PARIS    –      French Open champion Simona Halep has said won’t be burdened by expectations that she can repeat last year’s triumph and would rather focus on enjoying the Grand Slam which starts on Sunday.

The 27-year-old Romanian enters Roland Garros as favourite for the title given the contrasting form of some of the top names, including Japan’s world number one Naomi Osaka, but her own claycourt preparation has not been spectacular either. World number three Halep could have knocked Osaka off top spot by winning the Madrid Open earlier this month but lost in straight sets to Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens in the final.

A few days later, she fell at her first hurdle in the Italian Open, losing to Marketa Vondrousova — Halep’s second defeat by the 19-year-old Czech this year after a three-set loss at Indian Wells. However, the Romanian said she did not feel any extra pressure to retain her title at Roland Garros.

“I have no expectations because it’s the first time when I have to defend a trophy at a Grand Slam,” she told Romania’s Digi Sport TV station. “(I just want to) be relaxed, enjoy the tournament and try to win some matches. Nothing more!”

Halep has been backed by former French Open champions Mats Wilander and Justine Henin to join an elite group of players in retaining her crown, with three-times men’s champion Wilander saying Halep versus Serena Williams would be “a dream final”.

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