A rampant Caroline Wozniacki said a more assertive approach is fuelling her spectacular start to the WTA Finals after she thrashed world number one Simona Halep in straight sets on Wednesday.
The 27-year-old stunned Halep 6-0, 6-2 in just 63 minutes in Singapore to storm into the last four of the year-end tournament for the loss of just four games.
The sixth-seeded Dane also crushed Elina Svitolina in her opening match, winning the last 10 games en route to a 6-2, 6-0 victory.
Wozniacki, a renowned counter-puncher, said she has enjoyed playing a more aggressive game in the round-robin format.
“Even if you lose the first match, you still have nothing to lose,” she told reporters. “It’s just a nice cushion to have. I think that kind of motivates me to start off strong and just go for it.
“I just ran a lot of balls down and I played aggressive and I mixed up the pace. Everything I wanted to do was going my way.”
Wozniacki is one of seven players in the eight-woman field who could finish the year as world number one by lifting the trophy on Sunday.
She said she was well suited to the slower court of Singapore, where she was a semi-finalist in 2014.
“I think this court is great for the all-round player, who can play both aggressive and defence,” she said. “I just have been feeling good and am playing at a high level.”
The former world number one broke three times in an almost flawless first set, in which she served at 94 percent and made just two unforced errors.
Wozniacki, looking focused and determined, won the first seven games against Halep, whose hold on the top ranking looks increasingly shaky.
Wozniacki barely let up in the second set as she continued to masterfully move the flummoxed Romanian around the court, hitting the lines with precision.
Halep finally got on the board early in the second set but she was broken in the fourth game and then again on match point, capitulating with a meek forehand into the net.
“I made too many mistakes and she didn’t miss,” Halep said. “It was one of my bad days. During the points I missed too many and I wanted to over-hit the ball.”
It was a bitterly disappointing evening for Halep, who only became world number one earlier this month and who was impressive in her opening victory over Caroline Garcia.
“I just maybe didn’t try enough to keep the ball on court, but in my opinion I tried. I fought. I didn’t give up. But I just couldn’t feel, couldn’t have the touch of the ball today,” added Halep.
The 26-year-old now finds herself in a battle to reach the semi-finals, and next plays Svitolina in a crunch match on Friday.
Pliskova, who is in contention to finish world number one, continued her stranglehold over the Spaniard with a 6-2, 6-2 victory in just 62 minutes. The Czech has not dropped a set from her two games to ensure she finishes top of the White Group.
She will play her final round robin match on Thursday against winless number seven seed Jelena Ostapenko, who has been eliminated.
Even though the match against Ostapenko will be a dead rubber, Pliskova said she wanted to continue her rich vein of form.
“Maybe it’s going to have a little bit of a different atmosphere but… I don’t want to lose any of these matches I’m playing,” she told reporters after the match.
“It would be nice to win all three (matches) in the group. If I can win a few matches in a row, it will give me extra confidence.”
It was her seventh victory from nine starts over the world number two, who appeared hampered by an upper leg injury, which required strapping early in the match.
The result means Muguruza and Venus Williams, in a re-match of the Wimbledon final this year, will fight for the last semi-finals spot from the White Group when they clash on Thursday.
Cruises past Muguruza 6-2, 6-2! pic.twitter.com/Ma3T4k0Xsn
— WTA (@WTA) October 24, 2017
Muguruza said the strapping to her left thigh was “just prevention” and she lamented her performance.
“I think my tennis wasn’t there tonight. I didn’t start well,” she said, adding she was “a little bit disappointed”.
Pliskova came out firing with her trademark serve proving lethal. She had a 70 percent success rate with her first serve in the early going and relentlessly targeted Muguruza’s body.
The 25-year-old cruised through the first set in just 26 minutes and the one-sided rout continued.
Pliskova won the first five games of the second set before Muguruza saved some face by winning consecutive games.
But it wasn’t long until Pliskova deservedly sealed her spot in the final four.
Earlier, Williams revived her WTA Finals campaign with an epic three-hour, three-set victory over Ostapenko.
The 37-year-old world number five rebounded from her opening defeat to Pliskova with a marathon 7-5, 6-7 (7/3), 7-5 win over three hours and 13 minutes — just one minute shy of the record played at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
The 37 games played was a WTA Finals tournament record.
“A win is a win. That’s all I can say,” a terse Williams told reporters after the match.
The result will sting for Ostapenko who started brightly, working Williams around the court and hitting the lines with precision, notably several piercing cross-court winners.
The 20-year-old delivered 12 of the first 13 winners in the match before her confidence nosedived as she struggled with her serve, which was broken nine times by Williams.
Ostapenko admitted problems on her serve brought about her undoing.
“I was just a little bit tight in some moments,” she said. “I fought until the last point but my serve wasn’t really amazing today.”
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.”