Simona Halep was on the brink of retirement. Spending a year on the sidelines, the Romanian wondered if her body could withstand the rigours of the tour. Having torn her left calf muscle she was forced to drop out of the French Open, Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics. Dropping out of the top-10 for the first time since 2014, the ex-world no. 1 felt her love for tennis ebbing away. If not for a last-ditch partnership with French coach Patrick Mouratoglou, we might have bid our final farewells to the 30-year-old. Speaking to CNN Sport’s Christina McFarlane ahead of this year’s French Open, she reflects on that period:

“I felt exhausted and I felt that there is no chance I can be in the top anymore. It was really tough to look on the bright side.”

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Working with the much sought after French coach has helped rekindle her old fire, giving life to Halep’s tennis career. Introverted by nature, the two-time Grand Slam champion did not expect the two to bond with such ease. “I didn’t really expect that because I’m not very open to people and it’s not easy for me to trust in somebody. But it was just a great connection since the first moment I met him. I was almost done before coming here because I didn’t have that fire anymore and I didn’t trust that I’m able to play at the highest level again. So coming here I found it and I discovered again why I play tennis,” she adds. “I play tennis because I love it … He brought that fire back,” gushed an effusive Halep.

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Mouratoglou, for his part, was always sure of Halep’s abilities. After a brief visit to his academy in Southeast France, the two decided to work together. “I always love to watch her play. I think she has an incredible game, so she’s super exciting as a player. She was playing great already, but she could play much more. I could see the progress she could make,” said the Frenchman to CNN. In April he would officially announce himself as the Romanian’s coach.

Returning to the red clay of Rolland Garros, the 19th seed is enjoying her time in court. With a first-round tie against unseeded Croat Ana Konjuh, Halep hopes to progress into the later rounds in Paris.