Simona Halep defeated Magda Linette 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in the first round of the 2021 Western & Southern Open on Tuesday to register her first win since May.
Halep made her return to the tour only last week at the Canadian Open, where she failed to cross the first hurdle, falling to the in-form Danielle Collins. Prior to that, the Romanian missed the French Open and Wimbledon due to a calf tear she sustained during the Italian Open.
But while the former Wimbledon champion continues to battle injuries, she has made sure to protect herself from the threats of COVID-19. Halep, who contracted the virus back in October last year, received both shots of the Pfizer vaccine earlier this year.
After her win over Linette, Halep spoke to the media about the advantages of being vaccinated. She claimed she is now no longer "afraid" to be around people who are yet to receive the jab and added she always takes the necessary precautions.
"I don't feel afraid (around the unvaccinated), because I am vaccinated," Halep said. "I feel protected. I am taking care. I wear the mask when many people are around."
Halep asserted that she prefers tournaments that do not have any restrictions like bubbles. As such, she expressed hope for more people to get vaccinated as it would bring an end to such rules.
"I feel much better when is open, the tournament.," she added. "I don't like the bubbles. I feel very stressed when I'm in the bubble. So if people can vaccinate more and more will be better, because we will not have more restrictions anymore."
The COVID-19 pandemic caused tennis to shut down for close to six months in 2020. Halep missed a further three months this year due to her calf injury.
When asked how she dealt with the additional time off the court, the Romanian said the pandemic-induced shutdown was easier to cope with as she was not the only one impacted by it.
"Well, last year was easier because everybody was home (smiling)," Halep said. "But this one, this period was tougher because everyone was playing and I missed two Grand Slams."
Halep admitted the experience was "painful" for her but pointed out that she stands to become tougher after such an ordeal.
"So it was a little bit painful, but, you know, these things I hope will make me stronger," Halep added. "Now I can just enjoy more the fact that I can be on court."
It was not easy during the pandemic because I was scared of the virus: Simona Halep
During the course of the press conference, Simona Halep was asked to shed some light on how she dealt with the pandemic-induced shutdown last year and her injury this year.
The Romanian pointed out that all players "struggled" amid the pandemic since they could not play or practice for several months.
"Well, I think we all struggled a little bit last year, because for everybody was something new to stay four, five months home," Halep said. "Without tournaments, it was a big cut of the rhythm."
After the tour resumed, Halep won the Prague Open in August and the Italian Open in September. The Romanian explained that the break allowed her to recharge mentally. But she also revealed that she lived in constant fear of the virus.
"So when I came back last year, I was pretty okay," Halep continued. "I won two tournaments. I felt good. I needed that break mentally. But was not easy in the pandemic period, because I was a bit scared of the virus."