For the first time since January 2014, having fallen outside the coveted top 10 of the world rankings, Halep fell out of love with tennis.
However, since she began working with Muratoglu earlier this year, Halep says her passion for the sport has been rekindled.
“I really didn’t expect this because I’m not very open to people and it’s not easy for me to trust someone. But it was just a wonderful bond from the first minute I met him,” Halep says of Muratoglu.
“I almost finished before coming here because I didn’t have that fire anymore and didn’t believe I could play at the highest level again. So when I came here, I found him and again understood why I play tennis,” she adds. “I play tennis because I love it… He brought that fire back.”
“I always enjoy watching her play. I think she has an incredible game, so she’s very exciting as a player,” Muratoglu told CNN Sport. “She was already playing well, but she could have played much more. I saw the progress she could make.”
Muratoglu, known by his nickname “The Coach”, is one of the most sought after tennis instructors.
A year later, Baghdatis reached the final of the Australian Open before losing to Roger Federer and also reached the Wimbledon semi-finals that same season.
The secret to his success? “Of course, passion is the most important thing. (If) players don’t have passion, they won’t achieve anything great,” Muratolgu said. “So that’s the key.”
“People also have moments in their lives when they may lose their love for the game for a while or lose their love for the game,” he adds. “I don’t think she (Halep) lost it.”
What makes a champion
In addition to physical rehabilitation, Halep worked with Muratoglu to restore her self-confidence.
“He’s very open, so it’s very easy to talk to him,” she tells CNN. “I am very emotional. In general, I have a lot of fears and I doubt myself most of the time. And it was easy for me to express myself the way I am.”
When Muratoglu appeared on the Netflix series The Game Compilation in September 2020, he talked about how a player’s fortitude can make or break their ability to become a champion.
The series is about world famous sports coaches who share their personal rules for achieving success both on and off the arena.
“Everyone has limits, and the limits of everyone are not technical, tactical, physical. They are mental,” Muratoglu told the documentary.
“And when you don’t think like a champion, you don’t act like a champion and you don’t win like a champion. Therefore, it is very important to make sure that the mind works correctly.”
“He said something like: ‘Football starts with the foot, continues with the heart and ends with the head.’
“The head is the most important thing … because if you do not deeply believe that you can achieve something, you will not go to the fullest. You will go halfway. You will find reasons not to. You will find excuses,” Muratoglu says.
“I think a big part of my job is helping people, in this case Simone, believe in themselves and in their ability to achieve what they want,” he adds. “I always tell Simone how strong she is mentally because I really believe in it.
“She made my job a lot easier in a way, being so open and trusting me so much.”
Partnership with Serena Williams
Muratoglu is no longer used to reinventing players who hit rock bottom.
She also aspired to win Grand Slams as she did not win a major tournament for two years.
“I am very proud of what we have done with Serena. Now, of course, I am very grateful for these incredible 10 years,” Muratoglu says. “She trusted me for 10 years, which is rare in the tennis world.”
Williams has not played since exiting a Wimbledon first-round match against Alexandra Sosnovich in June 2021, during which she suffered a leg injury.
“It’s not easy to tell someone you’ve worked with for 10 years that you’re going to start something with someone else,” Muratoglu adds. “It’s a 10 year relationship… in which you share so many things, so many emotions and so many moments.”
“I’m ready to do my best”
As Muratoglu and Halep speak to CNN, they are gearing up for Roland Garros, where the 30-year-old Romanian is set to play Croatia’s Ana Konyukh in the first round on Sunday.
“The French Open is my favorite Grand Slam,” she says. “I love the city. I feel great. I love the atmosphere. So everything comes together and I feel great. This tournament is going to be a big test for me. I’m ready mentally. I’m ready to do my best.”
“I really thought that I would finish by the age of 30,” says Halep. “I was wrong.”
“I want to play for a few more years. I feel like I can,” she adds. “My body is fine. You know I feel healthy. I feel that my energy level is high. So I don’t see any reason to stop now.”
However, there is one player who can stop Halep from winning a third Grand Slam title.
“Over the past month, Iga has shown great physical, mental and tennis stability. She is very stable in everything. That’s why she won so much. But I think that everyone can be beaten,” Muratoglu says.
And Muratoglu is sure that the strength of the spirit of Halep can compete with Svyatek.
“She’s also a great player, but what makes her special is that she’s extremely mentally strong,” he says. “I feel like she also believes in herself and that combination can work wonders.”