Halep and Sharapova start WTA Finals in style

By Ros Satar

  • Simona Halep [1] def. Flavia Pennetta 6-0 6-3
  • Maria Sharapova [3] def. Agnieszka Radwanska [5] 4-6 6-3 6-4
  • Day 2 features Garbiñe Muguruza v Lucie Safarova & Petra Kvitova v Angelique Kerber – Previews

SINGAPORE – Top seed Simona Halep ripped through US Open champion Flavia Pennetta and Maria Sharapova marked her return to winning ways on Day 1 of the Singles at the WTA Finals.

Simona Halep [1] def. Flavia Pennetta [7] 6-0 6-3

 

Top seed Halep wasted absolutely no time in setting out her stall at this year’s WTA Finals, delivering a first set bagel in 25 minutes against a player who took advantage of her fatigue earlier in the year at the US Open.

There she met the inspired Italian after a grueling match against Victoria Azarenka, and ran out of steam, as Pennetta had extended her head to head lead over Halep to 4-1. But it was time to redress the balance, as Halep raced out of the blocks with some good attacking tennis to combat Pennetta’s usual finesse and accuracy.

Nothing was going right for the Italian in the first set, and it took eight games before she finally got on the board, as the crowd tried to whip up some support for her on her final tournament.

It was in fact a little more competitive as the steadier Halep began to get a little careless, and Pennetta dialed into a little more aggressive play, but the chances she earned in the first game of the second set came and went as she squandered two vital break point chances.

From there Halep never looked back, albeit having to battle to convert one of four chances she had to then serve out the match.

Pennetta, who won the 2010 Doubles Final at the WTA Championships (With Gisela Dulko) admitted that Halep had been completely in control today, but the beauty of the round robin format is that her final tournament still has legs, for now.

She said: “I think I have to recover a little bit, to have more energy, to be more aggressive, and that’s going to be my goal for the next match for sure.”

Halep, ever the perfectionist was happy enough with her performance. It may not have been as ‘perfect’ as she wanted, but she had the measure of Pennetta.

She said: “I was well‑prepared and I knew how to play against her. I was expecting that she’s going to play the same like in US Open, and I knew how to adapt the game. So I was solid. I was smart‑aggressive, I can say. I didn’t use overpower. I just opened the court and I tried to finish the point.”

 

Maria Sharapova [3] def. Agnieszka Radwanska [5] 4-6 6-3 6-4

 

Before this match, rusty and not able to even complete a match since the summer, it looked as though the recent Tianjin champion Radwanska would emerge victorious.

Indeed as pumped as Sharapova was in the initial stages of the match, it was the steadier Radwanska who edged ahead in the first set with a break.

However, never count Sharapova out until she is marching off court. Radwanska relinquished the first three games of the second set, and despite a flurry of resistance, never really looked like stopping Sharapova from leveling the match.

That momentum stuck with the Russian, and after an epic hold lasting over 13 minutes, the first break came to her, while Radwanska looked exhausted. It looked to be a foregone conclusion as Sharapova broke to serve out the match for the first time, but from somewhere Radwanska broke straight back and for a fleeting moment looked like she would actually pull off the Houdini act, holding two break points to level, before Sharapova saved them both and finally converted on her second match point.

Radwanska just had to admit that she let those chances go as they completed another epic that are renowned for.

She said: “I think she is just kind of player that even that she didn’t play for couple months, she’s always ready to play matches and always in shape to play really good match. I think we always playing three hours match in Championships, so I’m not surprised.

“I think it was really good match. I didn’t really use my chances. Couple of off games that I just slip away a little bit.”

Sharapova admitted that it could have been easy to ditch the tournament, as she is still in the frame for Russia in the Fed Cup final that follows this.

She explained: “I’ve had a lot of starts and stops, and I was just really thrilled that despite not playing these last few months and not playing my best tennis, I was facing an opponent that obviously deserved a spot in tournament and has had a really great last few months, and I just felt like I was able to take myself to another level physically, which I didn’t exactly expect that I would be able to.

“I know we have pretty long ones.  I know a lot of you look forward to them.  I do, too.  I really do enjoy playing against her.  I feel like those are some of the matches that I like to watch on TV, when different styles of games clash against each other.  Becomes that bit of a cat and mouse game.

“That’s something that my father talked about so much when I was a young girl.  Just have to figure out a way to win no matter how similar or different the games are.  I think that combination just creates really good matches between each other.”

 

Day 2 Previews
Garbiñe Muguruza [2] v Lucie Safarova [8]

 

It’s a busy time for the Spaniard. She started off her tournament with doubles partner Carla Suárez Navarro as they lost out to second seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Safarova. Now she gets to face the leftie Czech again as she tries to negotiate her way through a group made entirely of tricky lefties!

Muguruza has maybe a little more momentum from the group, having pulled out of Hong Kong after winning the Beijing title – her biggest to date, and with Petra Kvitova on her way back after an up and down year with illness, Angelique Kerber pulling out of Moscow, and Safarova on her way back after a bacterial infection caused her to miss the entire Asia swing, the path is set for the No. 2 seed to make her mark.

She looked at times ill at ease at the net against Safarova and Mattek-Sands as they started their campaign with a solid win. But she spoke at the All Access session of her increased self-belief with her first appearance in the singles, and she will need it as she heads into her match with the Czech ahead 1-0 in their head to head.

With a change in her coaching set-up, now working with Sam Sumyk, there is a lot for Muguruza to take in as the end of a breakthrough season approaches, the highlight of course being her run to the Wimbledon final. Charmingly disarming, she will need to play focused and attacking tennis but be ready to play some defensive tennis when Safarova looks to steal the initiative from her.

Both have a lot to prove having made their maiden slam finals this year, with perhaps the edge going to the Spaniard, having acclimated more in Singapore that Safarova.

 

Petra Kvitova [4] v Angelique Kerber [6]

 

What happens when these two lefties get together? Well the last three times it has gone the Czech’s way after Kerber took advantage of her shakier form after winning her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2011.

Times have changed though for the Czech. A second grand Slam in the bank last year gave her a lot more confidence in herself, but an up and down year this year with illness disrupting her form as she opted for a complete break at the start of the spring hard court season. After it emerged that she had been diagnosed as suffering from mononucleosis over Wimbledon, she pared down her training and things appear to be moving in the right direction for her. Yes, even the training has returned to full bore.

The advantage in their head to head now lies with Kvitova, along with a win the last time they met at the WTA Championships (2013). Whereas Kerber grinds away at her opponents to wear them down, she lacks the killer instinct at times to just smack the winner, whereas Kvitova’s easy power, heavy ground-stokes and clever use of angles gives her the edge a little – providing she can balance her high risk aggressive play with the inevitable slew of unforced errors that comes with it.

It will be fun to see how the two lefties cope with each other but Kvitova has the advantage in terms of utilising that hefty serve of hers to score free points. Sure, it may not be as effective against another left-hander but one of Kerber’s weaknesses is that she perhaps does not use hers to her best advantage, and if Kvitova is feeling on form, she could be off to a winning start.

The WTA Finals Singles continue on Monday at 6pm (10am GMT) with Muguruza v Safarova, followed by Kvitova v Kerber, not before 7:30pm (11:30am GMT).

Britwatch’s Ros Satar is covering the WTA Finals for Tennis Panorama News – read her reports here.

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