Two super semi-finals are on Saturday’s schedule at the Western & Southern Open; arguably the two in-form players on the WTA tour go head-to-head in the second of the semis at not before 2.30pm local time in Cincinnati with the number two seed, Angelique Kerber taking on the number three seed, Simona Halep.
Kerber was first into the semi-finals, scrapping her way from a set and a break down to beat Carla Suárez Navarro, 4-6 6-3 6-0. The conditions were pretty brutal and Kerber was both passive and sluggish in the first set, clearly showing the effects of an intense few months on the WTA tour. Suárez Navarro put together a 12 point streak to win the opener and then go up an early break in the second set. However, Kerber began to play a little more aggressively and showed impressive resolve, winning two tight deuce games to go ahead on serve.
As Kerber began to settle, Suárez Navarro started to mis-fire with a avalanche of unforced errors. Kerber won 10 of the last 11 games, powering home with a bagel third set. It was closer than the 6-0 scoreline suggested but the break point conversions told a story: Suárez Navarro was 0/5 while Kerber took all three of her break point opportunities in the third set. For Kerber, it was yet another match where she wasn’t playing even close to her best tennis but she hung around and won the big points, contributing to Suárez Navarro’s downfall.
In the final quarter-final, Halep fought back from a 0-4 first set deficit, winning 13 of the last 15 games to beat Agnieszka Radwanska, 7-5 6-1. Halep made a poor start as she struggled to find her range from the baseline. Despite losing her serve to go down 0-4 she began to show positive signs, moving her feet and trying to dictate play. I was impressed that Halep didn’t get down on herself and was pretty positive in her attitude. The down-the-line shot wasn’t working but she changed it up with more cross-court balls – her coach, Darren Cahill approved of this on the changeover at the end of the first set.
There was a pivotal point in the game at 4-1 where Radwanska had the upper hand on a break point coming forward but surprisingly netted. Halep began to win more of the mini-battles; Radwanska had game points in the next three games but Halep edged them all, levelling up at 4-4. The Romanian player was now in control but failed to serve out the opener at 5-4 as Radwanska produced a magical pick-up down set point that earnt a racquet clap from Halep.
Radwanska broke back but then played a tame service game at 5-5 to drop serve once again. Halep recovered from *0-30 down in her second attempt at serving out the set, rolling off four straight points and playing a tactically superb set point that she finished with a cute drop shot (see video in tweet below).
After an exchange of breaks at the start of the second set, Halep won five straight games as she comfortably eased her way into the semi-finals of Cincy for the second straight year. Halep’s second serve was vulnerable (21% of second serve points won) but she was lethal on return as she broke Radwanska’s serve eight consecutive times. In fact, Radwanska’s only holds were her first two service games.
Head-to-head record: Halep leads Kerber, 4-2 in their head-to-head. The pair will be playing for the fourth time in 2016; Kerber secured her first ever win over Halep in Fed Cup action and won their most high profile encounter at Wimbledon in a tight two set quarter-final. In their most recent match, Halep overcame a mid-match wobble to win in three sets in Montreal, 6-0 3-6 6-2.
Interesting stats: Halep is currently on a 13 match winning streak having won her two previous tournaments in Bucharest and Montreal, and has posted a superb 26-3 W-L record stretching back to Madrid. Kerber hasn’t enjoyed the same kind of winning run but she’s been super consistent, arguably enjoying her best spell of the season so far. The Aussie Open champ has won 20 of her last 23 matches since the French Open.
Final thoughts: It’s nice to see three of the top four seeds into the semi-finals in Cincy and Kerber-Halep is becoming a stalwart WTA match-up. Halep showed great resilience in her quarter-final, not panicking when she lost the first four games. Her confidence is obviously sky-high and having not played the Olympics, she should be feeling much fresher than Kerber. The German player has been mentally sound of late but understandably, she has looked physically fatigued in her last two matches. Kerber has the lure of world number one which may help to overcome weary legs but it will take something special from Kerber (and quick!) to overcome an in-form Halep.
Halep for the win.