Simona Halep has her eyes set on a strong showing at the WTA Finals in Singapore next month, despite a back injury she picked up during training in Wuhan that limited her performance in her second-round loss to Dominika Cibulkova on Tuesday.
The Kremlin Cup tournament, taking place the week before Singapore, made a surprise announcement on Tuesday that Halep was going to participate in the event in Moscow.
It seemed like an unusual decision from Halep, who will need to fly straight to Singapore after Moscow and could potentially miss the promotional activities the top-eight players take part in ahead of the WTA Finals.
The Romanian told reporters in Wuhan earlier this week that she has her eyes firmly set on finishing the year as the world No. 1, a position she has held onto since February, with no interruption, but could potentially lose before the season closes.
“The motivation is still there. I really want to finish on No. 1 again. I have a chance, but I have to take it,” Halep told reporters here on Monday. “Hopefully it’s going to be, like, not that stressful like last year, better. But it’s always tough. So I expect everything.”
Halep insists that chasing year-end No. 1 is not why she is playing Moscow.
“I want to change something before Singapore because the last two, three years I lost in the groups, so some matches, in my head now, I have that that’s going to help me,” explained the Romanian after her loss to Cibulkova on Tuesday.
“So if I’m okay with the back and everything, I’ll go to play.
“No. 1 if it’s going happen, it’s going to happen, I’m not doing it for that.”
Halep spent two days in bed getting treatment after her back was hurt during a practice session with Petra Kvitova on Sunday in Wuhan. She said she still wanted to play her opening match against Cibulkova and despite her 6-0, 7-5 loss, walks away with confidence from the tournament. She says there was no risk to further damage the back and that it should be fine “in a few days”.
“I just didn’t want to give up. I forced a little bit, because I think this match, even if I lost it, it’s important because I played some points and one big tournament is coming ahead, so I see only positives. So it’s okay,” added Halep, who is the top seed in next week’s China Open in Beijing.
Last year, the No. 1 ranking switched hands seven times throughout the year but this season has been a different story. Halep has occupied the top spot for the majority of 2018, with the exception of just four weeks where Caroline Wozniacki replaced her (from January 29 to February 25).
Halep’s peers are not surprised she’s been able to stay on top all year.
“I think she’s the most consist of all players right now,” former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova said of Halep.
“She’s not just having good results on big tournaments. She won one Grand Slam this year. Even though the last few years she didn’t win Slams, she went to finals, semis. Not only on one tournament, she’s able to make it on nine tournaments out of 10. This is why she’s there now.
“She’s not making any bad tournaments. She’s not giving a match to anybody. That’s why she’s there. That’s why she’s winning a lot of close matches, lot of tough matches, because she’s just fighting. Her game is sometimes too solid and too good for the rest of the players. She has maybe some weeks amazing, but then they don’t have the solid weeks what she’s having.”
World No. 13 Daria Kasatkina echoed Pliskova’s thoughts, conceding that Halep’s consistency is like none other on tour.
“I’m not surprised at all because she’s very, very solid and she’s such a consistent player. I mean how many times did she lose in a first round? Barely any. Now she’s very confident in her game, she won her first Grand Slam and I think she’s very confident,” said the young Russian.
Halep is 46-10 win-loss this season, with three titles to her name in 2018. She has 1,150 points to defend until the end of the year, having reached the final in Beijing last year and she won one of her group stage matches in Singapore at the WTA Finals.
She hasn’t made it out of the group stage at the season finale since her WTA Finals debut in 2014, where she was runner-up to Serena Williams.
Of all the tournaments I attend throughout the year, Wuhan is probably one of the most unique.
From the tournament’s catchy anthem, to the dancing robots and dragons that celebrated its fifth anniversary, to the beautiful venue that keeps developing at an unbelievable pace.
I hadn’t visited this tournament since 2016 and within those two years, the city built a tram that goes all the way up to the Optics Valley International Tennis Centre — which was initially in a relatively remote location but is now accessible via public transport — and a massive outlet mall was opened right in front of the venue. A few players have already been spotted at the shops during their down time.
Wuhan’s slogan is “Different everyday!” and the tournament clearly takes that principle very seriously.
We’ve been having fun with the players these past few days at this Premier 5-level event.
Before her third round loss to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Petra Kvitova brought her A-game to the press conference room, joking with a veteran tour reporter that she was “new” for forgetting to use the microphone then doing it again when the moderator’s walkie went off loudly during proceedings. “He’s new too,” Kvitova said before finishing off her answer to a journalist’s question. The Czech is certainly keeping us all on our toes!
Meanwhile, Daria Kasatkina, only 21 years of age, admits it was “weird” being the more experienced player on the court when she took on 17-year-old Wang Xiyu in the second round and had to save four match points en route to victory. After jokingly mouthing an expletive, Kasatkina said: “I didn’t expect that, so soon. It’s very weird.” They grow up so fast, don’t they?
The affable Russian later said why she’s specifically motivated for her third round against Dominika Cibulkova on Wednesday.
“I’m happy that I’m playing Centre Court again because here the Centre Court is so beautiful and my team are so happy because the chairs are so comfortable, they can really enjoy it. Philippe [Dehaes, my coach] said he almost fell asleep two days ago during the first match. I hope it will not happen again,” she said with a chuckle.
Andy Murray was given a stern test by Chinese wild card Zhang Zhizhen before making it through to the second round of the Shenzhen Open.
Playing his first match since losing in the second round of the US Open last month, Murray started well but was pushed to a deciding set by 340th-ranked wild card Zhang.
Murray had just secured the first break of the third set when Zhang abruptly retired, handing the Scot a 6-3 6-7 (3/6) 4-2 victory. He will face top seed David Goffin in the second round.
This was Zhang’s first tour-level match of the season – although he did reach the quarter-finals in Shenzhen 12 months ago – and Murray was dominant in the early stages, winning five of the first six games.
But from there things became increasingly complicated as he failed to serve out the opening set at the first time of asking and then found himself under concerted pressure in the second.
Murray saved seven break points but Zhang converted his eighth chance to lead 4-2 and had an opportunity to serve out the set. He could not take it but was the better player in the tie-break.
As the match entered a third hour, Murray was in danger of suffering his worst defeat for 13 years, but, after finally breaking the Zhang serve in the sixth game, he was offered a handshake by the Chinese player.
The victory took Murray’s record to six wins from 10 matches since his return from hip surgery, but he will no doubt need to raise his level if he is to beat 11th-ranked Goffin in the next round.
At his post-match press conference, the three-time grand slam champion said: “It’s a really good test for me right now to play against guys who are in and around the top 10. I think he’ll be the highest-ranked player I’ve played since I came back so it’ll be good to see where my game is at.”
Murray announced on Saturday that he will call time on his season after next week’s tournament in Beijing in order to prepare for 2019.