Simona Halep eyeing stronger Singapore showing and year-end No. 1 ranking

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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.

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