The third day of the 2016 WTA Finals in Singapore will feature the second set of matches from the red group with Angelique Kerber up against Simona Halep in the first match at 7.30pm local time, followed by Madison Keys against Dominika Cibulkova. Kerber and Halep both have one win under their belt, while Keys and Cibulkova will be looking to get on the board with a first ever win at the WTA Finals.
Halep d. Keys, 6-2 6-4
In the first match of the tournament, Halep had a reasonably comfortable win over Keys, her fourth victory over the American player in 2016. Keys had started brightly, firing an ace down on the first point and looking good on the forehand side. However the errors soon began to flow as Halep secured the first break of the match including a string of 13 consecutive points. Halep hit just one winner but where she did excel was on serve as Keys barely put any returns into play.
After both saved break points in their opening service games of the second set, Halep secured the first break of the set after encouragement from her coach, Darren Cahill on one of the changeovers. One of things I noticed even more so in this match was the ease at which Halep moves around the court – there was one particular point where Keys wrong-footed Halep but the Romanian player managed to change direction in effortless fashion and stay in the point.
For a fleeting moment it looked like we might have a match when Keys broke Halep’s serve for the first time in the match to level up at 4-4. The optimism was dashed within a few minutes as Keys played a sloppy service game including one double fault and a weak second serve; she was swiftly broken on a sensational instinctive passing shot winner from Halep. Halep opened her Singapore campaign once again with a straight sets win, converting on her third match point. It was a solid display from Halep but Keys, with a constantly growing unforced error count, failed to adapt to the court surroundings against a quality opponent.
Kerber d. Cibulkova, 7-6(5) 2-6 6-3
After a disappointing contest to open the 2016 WTA Finals, the second match was a stunner. In their first meeting in over a year, Kerber relied on her battling qualities to overcome an impressive opening performance from Cibulkova. The Slovak player had shown some nerves in her first service game with a couple of glaring misses early on but soon settled down, hitting the ball down-the-line for winners with superb precision off both wings. The Slovak player levelled up at 4-4 and twice forced Kerber to serve to stay in the match with scoreboard pressure. Cibulkova opened both games with winners but Kerber’s resolve on serve held firm to force a tiebreak.
At 5-5 in the tiebreak, a crafty drop shot from Cibulkova (which looked good when she first hit it!), clipped the net and just trickled wide. In another lengthy and absorbing rally, Cibulkova went long on the backhand side as Kerber won the first set. It was a tough moment for Cibulkova because she played a superb set and it felt close to her best. On the resumption after Kerber took a comfort break, Cibulkova maintained her form from the first set as Kerber’s level, surprisingly so, dropped off. Cibulkova won the second set, 6-2.
Cibulkova earned the first break of the deciding set but Kerber, gritty and pumped up, showed the qualities of why she has excelled in 2016. The German player won four games on the trot as Cibulkova began to miss with some weary looking shots. The Slovak player gave it one last throw of the kitchen sink in a magnificent final game. Kerber whipped out the down-the-line forehand down break point and eventually served it out. After a slightly shaky campaign in Asia, this was a very convincing performance from Kerber against an in-form opponent.
Kerber v Halep head-to-head record: Kerber leads Halep, 4-3 in their head-to-head. Halep won their first three matches but Kerber has won three of their four clashes in 2016 with Halep’s only win coming in Montreal in a three setter, 6-0 3-6 6-2. Their most recent match was one week later where Kerber delivered a surprisingly swish performance, 6-3 6-4.
Final thoughts: Kerber and Halep are developing one of the flagship rivalries on the WTA tour in 2016 and this will be their fifth encounter of the year. Halep had the more straightforward opener, but Kerber was forced to dig deeper and deliver higher quality tennis to see off Cibulkova. Kerber’s touches of variety, particularly the slice and drop shot, were big winners in their match at Wimbledon. Both players served well in the first match, particularly Halep, but the Romanian player will have to contend with her opponent getting a lot more returns into play compared to the first match. A tough one to call but the edge for me just with Kerber…
Keys v Cibulkova head-to-head record: Keys has won all three previous matches against Cibulkova in Beijing (6-4 6-3, 2013), Wuhan (4-6 6-3 by ret., 2014) and Brisbane (7-5 6-2, 2015).
Final thoughts: I think it would have been curtains for Keys if she’d have had to play Kerber in her second match. She’s still got a lot of work to do but has a good record over Cibulkova to at least rely on, unlike the doom and gloom of the match-up against Halep. Cibulkova produced a gutsy performance against Kerber but one that looked energy-sapping. Common sense says that Cibulkova’s playing the more consistent tennis but i’d fancy Keys to improve significantly in this match and begin to adjust to the conditions.