Former world number one Simona Halep says she is no longer afraid of COVID-19 after getting vaccinated and has called on others within the sport to get the vaccine to allow tennis to ease health and safety restrictions.

Halep, who turns 30 next month, did not travel to New York for the U.S. Open Grand Slam last September due to the pandemic but then tested positive for the virus in October.

She received the vaccine in February.

“I don’t feel afraid, because I am vaccinated,” Halep told reporters after her opening win in the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.

“I feel protected. I am taking care. I wear the mask when many people are around.”

Professional tennis, which requires players to jet around the world, was shut down for five months last year as countries locked down borders to stem the spread of the virus.

The tours returned to empty stadiums last year with players having to stay within biosecure ‘bubbles’ and continue to be played in front of a handful of fans at best.

Both the ATP and WTA have recommended players get vaccinated and have put new protocols in place as incentives to get the jab.

“I don’t like the bubbles,” Halep said. “I feel very stressed when I’m in the bubble.

“So if people can vaccinate more and more (it) will be better, because we will not have more restrictions anymore.”

Men’s world number three Stefanos Tsitsipas complained of the challenge of living in a COVID-19 ‘bubble’ after his early exit from Wimbledon in June.

But the 23-year-old said at the weekend he would only get the COVID-19 vaccine if it became mandatory to compete.