Simona Halep. (Photo by: Xinhua/Liang Xu)
Defending champion, Elina Svitolina and world No. 1, Simona Halep square off in Shenzhen on Wednesday, as they battle for pole position in the Purple Group at the WTA Finals.
*Geo-restrictions apply. Streams available to customers with an active balance
Svitolina currently leads the group, by virtue of her straight sets victory over Karolina Pliskova in her opening match on Monday, while Halep, in second, needed three sets to get past US Open champion, Bianca Andreescu in her tournament opener.
Svitolina has now won her last seven matches at the year-end Finals, having won her final round-robin match in 2017 (she did not make the semi-finals), and compiled an unblemished 5-0 record in her title run last season. She also extends her winning streak over Pliskova to 4-0, following Monday’s hard-fought 7-6 6-4 victory over the world No. 2. (She is 4-5 overall against Pliskova).
Svitolina and Pliskova exchanged breaks early in the contest, but they soon settled on serve, with the last eight games of the set featuring no break points. An epic tie break ensued, with Pliskova bravely saving six set points, and holding a set point of her own at 9-8, but it was Svitolina who kept poking into the lead, and she eventually closed out the 26-point breaker on her seventh set point.
She pressed home her advantage by breaking in lengthy opening game of the second set, and while Pliskova evened the set at 2-2, Svitolina broke again for 4-3, and would maintain the lead for the rest of the match. She had some trouble closing out the win, slipping to a 15-40 deficit at 5-4, but the Ukrainian steadied herself and reeled off the next four points and register another very impressive WTA Finals victory.
Svitolina struck 21 winners and made just 16 unforced errors, and in the end, was far too consistent for Pliskova hit more winners, 37, but also donated 42 unforced errors.
The Ukrainian is looking to claim first title since last year’s success in Singapore, after surprisingly going through the 2019 regular season without lifting a WTA title. The quest to end that trophy drought is serving as extra motivation for the No. 8 seed in Shenzhen- the only member of the eight-player field yet to win a title this year.
“I think biggest motivation is to get the trophy this year. This is my last chance. I try to win as many matches as I can. That’s the biggest motivation for me,” she said.
“I always try to bring my best game. Just to be here it’s already amazing achievement for everyone. Everyone is a champion. You have to bring your best game.”
The 25-year-old might not have won a title in the regular season, but she did attain some significant milestones, as she reached her maiden Grand Slams semi-finals at Wimbledon and the US Open.
One of those semi-final defeats was against Simona Halep at Wimbledon, and she will get her chance for revenge when she takes on the Romanian in Shenzhen on Wednesday.
Halep came through a thorough examination from US Open champion, Bianca Andreescu in her opening match, saving a match point before pulling off a very satisfying 3-6 7-6 6-3 victory.
Troubling Halep with her extra pace and wonderful variety, Andreescu reeled off four games in a row to take the opening set, but Halep fought her way back into the contest in the second set. Twice she led by a break, but Andreescu hit back on each occasion, and carved out a match point as Halep served to stay in the match at 5-6. The Wimbledon champion survived, and would hold her nerve to squeeze over the line in the tie break and push the match into a final set.
Andreescu had treatment on her back in the latter stages of the match, and as the Canadian suggested, that might have played a part in the concluding phase of the contest. The 19-year-old got the first break of the final set for a 2-1 lead, but Halep won five of the next six games to claim victory after two and a half hours.
“I’m really proud actually that I could fight in this way because I have a month that I didn’t really practice with my back, with the injury. But looks like I’m still there”, Halep said after the match.
Indeed, Halep has had her injury concerns over the last couple of months- she retired from Toronto with a leg injury, and also Wuhan with a back injury. She competed in the following week in Beijing, but she wasn’t at her best, and was beaten by Ekaterina Alexandrova in the second round.
Her finest moment during the 2018 regular season was of course at Wimbledon, where she outplayed Serena Williams in the final to claim her second Grand Slam title, and her only title in 2019 so far. She also made finals in Doha and Madrid, losing to Elise Mertens and Kiki Bertens respectively.
Her post-Wimbledon form has generally been poor, as she managed just an ordinary 6-5 run leading up to Shenzhen, and hasn’t won consecutive matches in her last four tournaments. She will hope to change that when she plays Svitolina on Wednesday.
Halep is also looking to win more than one match at the WTA Finals for the first time since her debut appearance in 2014, when she finished runner-up to Serena Williams. She has struggled at the tournament since then, going 1-2 in each of her next three appearances in 2015, 2016 and 2017, failing to go past the round-robin phase in any of those years. She missed last year’s edition due to a back injury.
Her recent record against Svitolina is good, as she won both meetings this year- Dubai and Wimbledon- taking the overall tally to 4-4. These are two of the finest counterpunchers in the sport- I’m tempted to lean towards Halep as I feel she has a little bit more in offence, but Svitolina has clearly given Halep problems in the past, and her winning streak in this tournament cannot be overlooked.
“[It] looks like she likes the court. She feels it. She has confidence on this court. She won last year. It’s a great thing to win this tournament because it’s like playing the final of a Grand Slam every day,” Halep said ahead of Wednesday’s contest.
“It’s going to be a tough match definitely. I’m looking forward to it. But first I will enjoy the day off tomorrow. I try to recover and then we will see. But I’m ready to fight again and I’m happy to be in this position.”
Simona Halep vs Elina Svitolina is live from Shenzhen on Wednesday, 30 October from 6:30pm local time/ 10:30am GMT