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Simona Halep vs Madison Keys WTA Finals Singapore tennis live: Keys aims to overturn losing head-to-head vs Halep

Hannah Wilks in News 22 Oct 2016
  • Simona Halep faces Madison Keys in the first match of the Red Group at the WTA Finals Singapore
  • Halep vs Keys WTA Finals tennis is live from Singapore on Sunday at 5pm local/10am BST
Simona Halep (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Simona Halep, runner-up at the WTA Finals Singapore in 2014, aims to start her 2016 campaign with a win against Madison Keys in the first match of the WTA’s season-ending championships on Sunday. 

The WTA Finals Singapore kicks off with a bang on Sunday 23 October as Simona Halep takes on Madison Keys in the first match of the packed and dangerous Red Group.

Halep and Keys are in the Red Group, which looks to be decidedly the trickier of the two groups of four, with world no. 1 Angelique Kerber and the in-form Dominika Cibulkova also in the group. Thanks to the round-robin format, not just every match but every set and every game could be crucial.

It all adds up to advantage: Halep. The Romanian is making her third appearance at the WTA Finals Singapore, having finished runner-up to Serena Williams (whom she had beaten in the round-robin stage) in 2014 and gone 1-2 in round-robin play in 2015; she knows how this event works by now, while Keys is still getting used to being a top-10 player and has to adjust to the unique pressures and demands of this particular prestigious event. 

Halep also knows she can play well and effectively on the slow hard courts in Singapore, and comes into this event both well-rested and on decent form, a tricky balancing act to pull off at this time of the year. Although Halep’s first title for 2016 came at the Mutua Madrid Open on clay in May, it was after her run to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon (beating Keys and losing to Kerber) that she started to look really comfortable in 2016, winning back-to-back titles in Bucharest and Montreal, making the semifinals in Cincinnati – where she suffered a slightly surprising loss to Kerber – and the quarterfinals of the US Open, where she lost to Serena Williams in three sets. Pulling out of Tokyo, Halep made the semifinals of Wuhan only to run into Petra Kvitova in absolutely fearsome form: No one could have held a 1-6, 2-6 defeat to Kvitova in buzzsaw mode against her, but the Romanian’s 0-6, 3-6 loss to Zhang Shuai in Beijing was more shocking.

Still, that loss to Zhang is the only ‘bad’ one Halep has suffered for a while and the Romanian is an expert hard-court player. Accompanied by her coach Darren Cahill this week, Halep will be keen to finish 2016 on a high and comes into Singapore well-rested after enjoying the last two and a half weeks off. 

The same can’t be said for Keys, who had to go down to, if not the wire, at least fairly near it in order to secure Singapore qualification for the first time: Unable to wrap up her spot in Beijing despite an impressive run to the semifinals, defeating Kuznetsova and Kvitova on the way, Keys fell to Konta in the final four and had to take a wildcard into the Generali Open Linz last week. Keys made the semifinals without dropping a set with victories over Camila Giorgi, Misaki Doi and Oceane Dodin, but she was under the weather and pushing herself to play despite illness, which eventually forced her to withdraw from her projected semifinal clash with Viktorija Golubic after her Singapore spot had been secured.

With just one title to her name in 2016, a Premier-level win in Birmingham, and having failed to go beyond the round of 16 at any of the year’s four Grand Slams, it’s slightly surprising that Keys is in Singapore but runner-up finishes in Rome and Montreal and semifinals in Beijing and Linz have put her over the top and there’s no denying that the youngest player in the Singapore field has the weapons to beat any other player there on her day.

‘I kind of had a slow start to my season,’ Keys said. ‘[Singapore] wasn't really on the radar. Then even after Rome when I made the finals I noticed I was slowly kind of moving up in the race.

‘After winning in Birmingham I was kind of definitely in it at that point. So that's when I really knew that I could make it, and it became a big goal of mine to be able to get here.’

If Keys is going to reach the semifinals, she is going to have to overturn her losing head-to-head against either Halep or Angelique Kerber, and either is a daunting proposition. Halep has not only won four out of the five the two have played, she’s won the four most recent – suggesting that after Keys shocked her in the first encounter at Sydney in 2014, she swiftly figured out how to beat the American. They have met three times in 2016 alone, with Keys taking the first set at Wimbledon before she began to cramp and losing in three, then Halep winning in straight sets in Montreal and Wuhan. 

‘I'm looking forward to it,’ Keys said. ‘Just playing her in Wuhan, I think she played really well there, but I think a big part was that I got really passive and I got behind the baseline and let her start dictating. That's going to be something I'm going to have to step up and go for my shots in the smartest way I can, really just believe that I can do it.’

It’s easier said than done against a player with Halep’s combination of defense and athleticism, and the Romanian will be decidedly the favourite to start her WTA Finals Singapore campaign with a win.

Halep vs Keys is scheduled on Centre Court in Singapore at 5pm local/10am BST 

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Simona Halep vs Madison Keys WTA Finals Singapore tennis live: Keys aims to overturn losing head-to-head vs Halep

Halep vs Keys WTA Finals Singapore tennis live: Halep aims to take early lead in packed Red Group at season-ending championships

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