Simona Halep says she is relishing being the world number one after delivering an ominous warning to her rivals at the WTA Finals with a crushing, straight-sets victory over the in-form Caroline Garcia on Monday.
In her opening round robin match at the eight-player season finale, Halep halted Garcia’s 11-match winning streak with a 6-4, 6-2 masterclass in 88 minutes at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
It was sweet revenge for the recently crowned world number one from Romania, who lost to France’s Garcia in this month’s China Open final in Beijing.
Halep, who received the top billing a day before the final in Beijing, said she enjoyed winning her first match as the world number one.
“I feel happy. I feel great winning the first match in the first tournament coming in as number one,” she told reporters after the match.
“It’s a nice thing that I can be number one at the end of the year but it is not the most important thing in this moment for me. I just want to win the matches that I’m playing here.”
Garcia, the world number eight, had secured the last spot for Singapore after winning back-to-back titles in Wuhan and Beijing, but she was thoroughly outclassed in her debut WTA Finals match.
“I’m disappointed about the loss,” Garcia said. “It was not the way I wanted but it’s not over yet.”
Halep’s famed defensive prowess and precision hitting took hold of proceedings, particularly as she breezed through the second set in 38 minutes.
In the Red Group’s second match, world number six Caroline Wozniacki posted her first win over Elina Svitolina in grand style with a 6-2, 6-0 thrashing in just 59 minutes.
Denmark’s Wozniacki had previously lost all three matches to Svitolina, including crushing finals losses in Dubai and Toronto this year, but won 10 straight games in a one-sided rout. She broke three times during a dominant second set lasting only 26 minutes.
“I just stayed really aggressive and really tried to just go for my shots,” Wozniacki told reporters after the match. “I think I just kind of broke her down a little bit. Then I think she lost the belief or she tried to go a little bit more for it.”
Svitolina, playing in her first WTA Finals match, said she struggled to adjust to the Singapore court’s slower surface.
“This court is very, very slow. Today I completely lost my rhythm after (a) couple of games,” she said. “I’m very disappointed with the performance today.”
Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza served warning of her intention to win both the WTA Finals and the year-end world number one crown when she crushed Jelena Ostapenko in straight sets on Sunday.
The freshly crowned WTA player of the year was far too solid for an erratic Ostapenko, winning 6-3, 6-4 in 85 minutes to open her campaign at the eight-woman season finale in Singapore.
Muguruza, who is playing her third consecutive WTA Finals and reached the last four in 2015, gained in strength to take control of her opening White Group round robin match.
The Spanish world number two stuttered at the finishing line when she was broken when serving for the match. But she regrouped to eventually serve it out in the 10th game.
Muguruza, 24, said she was pleased to overcome the late jitters. “I wanted to win so badly and she was just not giving me anything,” she told reporters.
“I waited for my moment, where I served and tried to take control. It went well.”
Muguruza, who was number one for four weeks until she was replaced by Simona Halep earlier this month, is one of seven players who can finish the year on top of the rankings by winning in Singapore.
Ostapenko’s high-voltage game was spectacular at times, as shown by her 16 winners in the first set. But 10 unforced errors sabotaged her chances against a ruthless opponent and she never recovered.
“I’m not very pleased because I was making a lot of unforced errors and couldn’t really get used to the court and feel my game,” Ostapenko said.
Downs Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-4! pic.twitter.com/C9pcuIndqB
— WTA (@WTA) October 22, 2017
Earlier in White Group, in the tournament’s opening match, Karolina Pliskova made an explosive start when she beat 37-year-old Venus Williams 6-2, 6-2 in 73 minutes.
The Czech world number three, playing in her second consecutive WTA Finals, overwhelmed a sluggish Williams, who is back in the elite tournament for the first time since 2009.
Even though she did not make it out of the group stage a year ago, Pliskova said the experience helped enormously.
“I think I had quite an advantage from that she (Williams) was not playing for the last few years in WTA Finals,” Pliskova said.
“I don’t know how she felt but I think I was trying to take that advantage that I was here last year.”
The match was an anti-climax for Williams and an early blow to her bid to be crowned the world’s number one for the first time in 15 years.
Williams said she was confident of rebounding from the defeat. “Yeah, I have been in this position before,” she said.
“I felt like I returned well today. I just didn’t execute as well during the point.”
Defeats Venus Williams 6-2, 6-2! pic.twitter.com/IHG4bQx8cb
— WTA (@WTA) October 22, 2017
The 47th edition of the WTA Finals commences in Singapore on Sunday with Venus Williams taking on Karolina Pliskova (13:00 Dubai time), and Garbine Muguruza facing Jelena Ostapenko in White Group action.
Red Group play begins on Monday with world No. 1 Simona Halep squaring off against Caroline Garcia (15:30 Dubai time) and Elina Svitolina clashing with Caroline Wozniacki.
Here’s a closer look at the tournament and the key talking points surrounding the fourth staging of the event in Singapore.
As has been the case multiple times throughout the season, the No. 1 ranking is on the line this week in Singapore and the fact that seven of the eight players can walk away from the tournament with the top spot means the stakes are even higher. The entire field, except Garcia, can finish the year at the summit of the standings and the players aren’t shying away from the prospect.
“It (the No. 1 ranking) is important, I’m not going to lie but I know I have to play well,” says Muguruza, who spent four weeks at No. 1 before Halep replaced her earlier this month. “ I’m happy that I got it in the past, and now I’m not that nervous or obsessed.”
Halep echoed Muguruza’s thoughts saying: “I think for everyone it is the most important thing to finish the year No.1, but it is not going to be easy.”
Pliskova, who spent eight weeks at No. 1, said: “This tournament is really going to decide who is going to finish the year world number one. I think everybody has a good chance.”
If the 37-year-old Venus pulls it off, she would return to the top of the rankings for the first time since July 2002.
Svitolina and Ostapenko are the only two No. 1 contenders this week who haven’t made it to the top before.
Three of the eight players in Singapore are making their WTA Finals debut — Svitolina, Ostapenko and Garcia.
Svitolina owns a remarkable 7-1 win-loss record against top-five opposition in 2017 and is 10-3 against top-10 players. The Ukrainian is 6-3 head-to-head against her fellow Red Group players and has won a remarkable five titles in 2017, including three Premier 5 tournaments (Dubai, Rome, Toronto).
Ostapenko, the reigning French Open champion and the youngest WTA Finals qualifier since 2010, has a tough task ahead of her in Singapore, where she owns a 1-5 head-to-head record against her fellow White Group players. The 20-year-old comes into the tournament with momentum on her side though having won Seoul, and made semi-finals in Wuhan and Beijing, in her last three events.
Speaking of momentum, Garcia has plenty of it herself. The Frenchwoman pulled off a stunning double by winning Wuhan and Beijing back-to-back and is currently on an 11-match winning streak. She stands out in her White Group as a big-hitter amongst players who rely heavily on their superior movement and retrieving skills. Garcia will need her wheels to get through that group. She is 2-5 against her Red Group peers but can find solace in the fact that she beat both Halep and Svitolina en route to the Beijing title a few weeks ago.
Take a quick glance at the two groups and you can’t help but notice a particular theme: the White Group is mostly about the power-hitters (Pliskova, Venus, Muguruza and Ostapenko), and feature all-out aggression, while the Red Group will have more lengthy baseline rallies and will be more of a physical battle.
This is Venus’ first appearance at the Finals since 2009. Having reached two Grand Slam finals in 2017, the American is enjoying a resurgent season and seems to be having the time of her life on tour. The photo above is of Venus dancing her way onto the purple carpet at the Singapore draw ceremony. Venus won the WTA Finals in 2008 and is making her fifth appearance at the season finale.
The Czech ace queen parted ways with her coach David Kotyza last month and has Australian Rennae Stubbs helping her in Singapore this week. Will the new set-up pay dividends right away, or was this a gamble from Pliskova? This is her second WTA Finals appearance and she owns a 1-2 record at the tournament.
Garbine Muguruza was voted the WTA Player of the Year but we can’t deny it was a tight contest with several other competitors also worthy of that title. Success in Singapore for the Spaniard could potentially put any debate around this to bed.
This week’s alternates are Kristina Mladenovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Since 2003, when the Finals shifted to the current round robin format, the alternates have been called on seven times, most recently in 2012 when Sam Stosur stepped in. Mladenovic is on a 10-match losing streak and has featured in the Finals before in doubles, while Kuznetsova has made six previous appearances in singles.