DUBAI: Romanian superstar Simona Halep is eagerly counting down the days to when she can begin the defence of her Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title. The prestigious WTA1000 tournament, which will start on March 7, is one of the most popular on the worldwide tour, and the reigning champion will be competing for the eighth time. It is clearly a week she is looking forward to. “I like the people. The weather. The court I also like. Just everything. I feel very comfortable here,” she said during her run to the 2020 title. A year ago the top seed successfully emerged from one of the toughest weeks of her career to add to her 2015 Dubai title, saving a match point in her opening match against Ons Jabeur, fighting back from a set down to defeat Aryna Sabalenka and then producing a near flawless performance against Jennifer Brady in the semi-finals, committing just eight unforced errors, before bringing her week to a thrilling conclusion. Her 3-6 6-3 7-6(5) victory over Elena Rybakina was arguably the most dramatic final in the history of the women’s event and a fitting end to the 20th anniversary celebrations of the tournament hosting the WTA Tour. There were countless rallies which stretched both players to the limit, and the outcome remained in doubt right up until the final ball. “She fought till the end,” said a relieved Halep after her epic battle. The pandemic then interrupted the season and presented many challenges and disruption to her schedule as numerous tournaments were cancelled. Halep was resilient though, and followed up her impressive semi-final appearance at the Australian Open and the winning of her second Dubai crown by claiming further titles in her next two events.