In Part II of Singapore Sundays, René Denfeld takes a quick look at the latest developments in the Race to Singapore and features another match-up preview: Simona Halep vs. Ana Ivanovic.
… (almost) All Aboard!
As Christopher wrote on Friday, the singles Final Eight is set for Singapore; Angelique Kerber’s loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in Beijing sealed the deal. The doubles field, however, isn’t carved in stone yet. Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova came close to clinching a ticket for the WTA Finals after losing their Beijing semifinal, they are in the strongest position of the three remaining doubles teams. They will go head-to-head with Flavia Pennetta and Martina Hingis at the inaugural edition of the Tianjin Open. The Swiss-Italian pair will have to hope for blunders from their rivals over the fortnight after their 2nd round exit in the Chinese capital. The third team (Carla Suarez Navarro and Garbiñe Muguruza) isn’t playing this week.
(K)needless to say…
A couple of question marks were raised in Beijing after Serena Williams withdrew from the tournament. Williams played all her matches with a taped knee and did not take the court in her quarterfinal against Samantha Stosur. Simona Halep also did not play her scheduled quarterfinal match against Ana Ivanovic. After winning a tight three-set, see-saw tussle against Andrea Petkovic, the Romanian ended her stay in China with a hip issue. Here’s hoping that both of their injuries turn out to be niggling problems that can be taken care of, rather than serious ailments that will cut down on their performances in Singapore.
Match-Up Preview: Simona Halep vs. Ana Ivanovic
Unlike last week’s match-up, Halep and Ivanovic have already played one another in 2014. After finishing at the Tournament Of Champions in Sofia last year, both women have stepped up to qualify for the WTA Finals in Singapore this year. Halep had tremendous success at the first three slams of the year and won her biggest tournament yet at the Premier 5 in Doha. However, she struggled in August and September and suffered several early round exits. Ivanovic had fantastic results outside of the slams all year with titles in Auckland, Monterrey, Birmingham, and Tokyo, but didn’t make it past the 3rd round of a Grand Slam after Melbourne. The Romanian and the Serb were slated to play in Beijing a couple of days ago, but Halep withdrew with the aforementioned hip injury, delaying a rematch until Singapore at the earliest.
Ivanovic and Halep faced off twice in 2014, with both meetings occurring less than three weeks apart on clay. The former World No. 1 drew first blood during Fed Cup and defeated Halep in the Romanian’s second match of the day, 6-3, 7-6(2), in Bucharest. The French Open finalist quickly got her revenge and ousted the Serb in straightforward fashion, 6-2, 6-2 in Madrid.
However, the match that would be most relevant to Singapore was their encounter at last year’s Tournament of Champions. Just like the WTA Finals in Singapore, the event is held on an indoor hard court. Halep’s and Ivanovic’s encounter in Sofia was a pretty wild one, and momentum changes lurked behind every corner. The Serb showed flashes of the confident and aggressive tennis that she’d serve up more reliably in 2014 – particularly in the first set. After going down a break, Ivanovic’s serve and forehand clicked into gear and she reeled off five games in a row to take the set, 6-2. After struggling to find her footing, Halep retrieved with more depth and took charge when the opportunity arose to win the second set, 6-1. And this is where the real drama began: Ivanovic raced out to a quick 3-0 double-break lead and despite dropping serve afterwards, had chances to go up 4-1 again. Instead, the Romanian dropped a moral bagel on her opponent to win 2-6, 6-1, 6-3.
Throughout the match, it looked like the amount of tennis Halep played in the second half of 2013 had caught up with her; she looked flat for the majority of the match. On the other side of the net, Ivanovic’s penchant for losing from a winning position reared its ugly head in spectacular fashion. The 2014 season has been proof that both have made notable changes. Halep began scheduling with far more care to avoid overplaying, while Ivanovic managed to inject her game with a consistent dose of confidence. The Serb has won the most matches out of anyone on tour this year, and her backhand is far better than just an average rally shot these days. Although both had some “bad” losses this year, the former World No. 1 isn’t nearly as mentally frail as she was during her slump, while Halep never looked physically flat during an otherwise grinding season.
Ivanovic is back in action this week in Linz, while Halep will be taking a break until the WTA Finals to rest her hip and prepare for the event. If both women are healthy and in good shape, this should be a pretty intriguing match should it come to fruition. At her best, the Serb is easily good enough to hit through very capable, but ultimately more defensive-minded, opponents. By contrast, the Romanian is able to work and navigate around the court with tremendous balance, soak up pace, cut off angles, and place her shots with such precision to put anyone into all sorts of trouble when she gets into her groove.
Both women can look to the other’s second serve as an Achilles’ Heel. Halep’s first serve has quietly become a weapon and she gets a fair amount of pop on it for her size; this allows her to get her hands on the rally immediately and construct points to her aesthetic liking. Ivanovic can one-two punch and set up her forehand with far greater efficiency with a high first serve percentage. Should they have to hit too many second serves, they’ll relinquish their grip on the match a great deal and can end up under each other’s thumb fairly quickly.
Fingers crossed that – should they meet – their encounter will show exactly why both women have made the jump from the B-list “Tournament of Champions” to the top-flight WTA season-ending tournament.