Singles action at the 2015 WTA Finals in Singapore will begin on Sunday with the number one seed, Simona Halep going up against the number seven seed, Flavia Pennetta in a match scheduled for not before 3pm local time. This should be a fascinating opener with Pennetta comprehensively defeating Halep in their last match at the US Open.
Halep’s season has been a real rollercoaster ride with four clear definitions, two good, two not so good; aside from a disappointing loss to Ekaterina Makarova in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, Halep was inspired through the first three months of 2015. The Romanian player posted a 24-3 W-L record which included winning all three of her titles this year in Shenzhen, Dubai and Indian Wells. The clay court season, where Halep enjoyed her greatest success during 2014, was the big disappointment of the year. Halep failed to make a final on clay and then fell in the second round of the French Open to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in a 7-5 6-1 defeat. Halep followed that up with a first round loss at Wimbledon to Jana Cepelova, looking lost on court and committing a shower of unforced errors.
After a longgg break from the tour, Halep rebounded in style, reaching back-to-back finals in Toronto and Cincinnati, and looking refreshed and refocused with Darren Cahill now a pivotal figure in her team. Halep enjoyed her best Grand Slam result of the year, reaching the semi-finals of the US Open. However, it could have been even better as she failed to step up to the plate in a surprisingly straightforward semi-final loss to Pennetta, 6-1 6-3. Since New York, Halep’s results have dipped again with losses to Denisa Allertova in Guangzhou and Johanna Konta in Wuhan (from 5-1 up in the third set). It was surprising to see Halep play Guangzhou, particularly as she had already qualified for Singapore. She withdrew from Beijing with a worrying achilles injury. Three weeks of rest for both the body and the brain will no doubt have been favourable for Halep heading into her last tournament of the year.
Pennetta’s year has been spearheaded by a magical run to her first Grand Slam title at the US Open. While Serena was not in her path, Pennetta still had to overcome five top 50 players including Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively. No matter what people will say, I believe that Pennetta fully deserved and earnt that Grand Slam title. Everything else achieved in 2015 doesn’t come close to New York; it was a largely average year with a few rays of sunshine, notably wins over Angelique Kerber (Dubai), Maria Sharapova (Indian Wells), Victoria Azarenka (Miami) and Carla Suárez Navarro (French Open).
Pennetta has won four out of five previous encounters with Halep. The pair are tied at 1-1 for matches in 2015 with Halep securing her first ever win over Pennetta with a 6-3 7-5 victory in Miami in what was a high quality encounter. The courts in Singapore really suited Halep’s game last year and I have this feeling (just a feeling!) that she will be up for this and extinguish the memories from a frustrating Asian Swing
Pennetta is a complete mystery but I do think she *could* be a surprise package this week with the right mindset. The Italian player has been sketchy about her career plans after this tournament but it does sound like this will be her last tournament. I’m not concerned by her recent losses during the Asian Swing (even to Kichenok in Tianjin) as it must have been tough to find motivation after New York. However, Singapore, one of the biggest tournaments of the year, should get Pennetta going. Furthermore, she’s capable of raising her game against higher quality opponents.
All these round robin matches are so tough to call and it paves the way for a really exciting week. This prediction is based on the uncertainty of Pennetta and whether she can go out in a blaze of glory. My feeling is that Halep will be very focussed for this match and eager to put the semi-final loss at the US Open behind her. I’m backing the number one seed to get off to a win…
Prediction: Halep d. Pennetta in 2 sets