BY RICHARD OSBORN
Simona Halep is addicted to tennis and she’s not afraid to admit it. Which has made things especially hard for the world No. 4 in the early months of 2017; a year in which she has seen limited court time due to a nagging injury.
The 5-foot-6 Romanian sparkplug began experiencing knee pain last year at the WTA Finals in Singapore, but figured it would take care of itself in the off-season. However, late-year training -- perhaps over-training -- brought the pain back. Despite treatments and rehab, she's struggled on the match court, coming into the 2017 BNP Paribas Open with an uncharacteristic sub-.500 record of 2-3 on the year. She was unable to join her countrywomen for their Fed Cup World Group II matchup with Belgium, a tie they went on to lose, 3-1. And the 2014 Roland Garros runner-up has more often than not found herself confined to the gym, or to her home back in Constanta.
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"It's really tough when the others are playing tournaments and I’m staying home doing nothing, just recovery," she said. "But I have to be patient. I have to understand that all the players go through this. So I have to do it when it’s necessary. It’s better for myself."
But the pauses have clearly tested her patience.
"It's not easy," the Darren Cahill-coached Romanian confided. “"We're addicted, a little bit, to this sport. When I don't have competition, it's tough. I have a lot of adrenaline when I play. When I have a break, I miss that."
Fortunately, the 2015 BNP Paribas Open champ is playing pain-free tennis as she preps for her Indian Wells opener against Croat Donna Vekic. Chalking up her knee woes to "bad luck," the 25-year-old is ready to get back to the competition.
"I'm just happy that the pain is not there anymore," she said. "I cannot think about results. I cannot think about winning a lot of matches now because of my knee. I’m just happy to be playing. I love it. I love the competition."
• Halep has now posted three straight top-5 seasons.
• If she could face any player from the annals of the game, it would be childhood idol Justine Henin.
• She was edged in the 2014 Roland Garros final by Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-4.