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On Valentines Day, Simona Halep is embracing the "freedom" of being on her own. The former World No.1 arrived in Dubai with the goal of embracing her coach-less status, and on Monday she made a statement with her confident 6-2, 6-4 opening win against Alison Riske.

Halep parted ways with her longtime coach Darren Cahill last September, and recently broke off her brief partnership with Daniel Dobre and Adrian Marcu after she bowed out of the Australian Open in the fourth round. The 2015 and 2020 champion told The National ahead of the tournament that, despite the challenges, she’s currently not looking for a coach.

“I don’t have a coach right now, I have a sparring partner and he’s traveling with me these days,” Halep said. “I didn’t take a decision about the coaching. I’m not looking for a coach, I’m just enjoying my time alone and hopefully I can do a good job.

“I feel a little bit of freedom, so I think I have to enjoy this moment.”

The alone time seems to be paying off for 30-year-old Halep, who started the season with a run to the title in Melbourne. She needed 72 minutes to kick off her Dubai campaign with a win, saving both break points she faced across two sets.


Despite the one-sided scoreline, Halep needed to dig deep in the second set as No. 53-ranked Riske settled into the contest. Down a set and 2-0, the American saved eight break points to hold serve and then hit back in the next game, earning two break chances of her own.

But Halep’s rock-solid consistency kept Riske under pressure, forcing the American to go for bigger shots and often resulting in unforced errors. Halep saved both break points to hold for 3-1, and served out the victory after a Riske forehand sailed long.

“It’s pretty special to play again here. I have great memories here, and winning two times makes it very special… I have some family in the crowd so I’m really happy to be fit and to play some good tennis,” Halep said during her on-court interview.

“I was focused, I did everything that I had to do, and I’m happy to go through.”

The former world No. 1, currently ranked No. 23 after a snake-bitten 2021 season saw her miss three months of competition with a calf injury, will next face either Romanian qualifier Elena-Gabriela Ruse and No. 3 seed Paula Badosa.