The final matches from the red group will be played on Thursday with all four players having an opportunity to advance to Saturday’s semi-finals. Simona Halep and Dominika Cibulkova will open proceedings at not before 4pm local time with Cibulkova requiring a straight sets win and other results to go her way to stay in the tournament. The second match at 7.30pm local time will feature Angelique Kerber and Madison Keys with Kerber needing just a set to officially qualify.
Kerber d. Halep, 6-4 6-2
Kerber produced a super solid display to beat an increasingly erratic, Halep for her fourth win in five meetings in 2016. There wasn’t much to separate the pair in the opener with both struggling to impose themselves on this slow court. Serving at *3-4 *30-40, Kerber produced a bold forehand down-the-line that just caught the line. It was a turning point as Kerber held on for 4-4 and then won the last two games of the set as Halep’s challenge fizzled out with a succession of unforced errors. Kerber won the set with a tricky slice forcing Halep into the net with a groundstroke.
The second set continued in much the same vein with Halep missing big, particularly off the forehand wing, as Kerber kept the ball in court more often than not. As both tried to dictate the rallies, it was Kerber who was the more effective and accurate. Halep produced a scattering of superb points but they were never sustained. The pair had some close games in the second set including what would be the final game of the match where Halep had a break point; Kerber though won almost all of the mini-battles to win in straights. 35 unforced errors was Halep’s undoing as Kerber became stronger and stronger, both mentally and physically, as the match wore on.
Keys d. Cibulkova, 6-1 6-4
Keys produced a sensational display to get a first win at the WTA Finals with a dominant victory over Cibulkova. I wrote in my first preview for Keys’s match against Halep about how she’s been winning ‘ugly’ a lot this year but that wasn’t the case here. The first set was near-perfect as Keys served superbly and was absolutely killing it on the forehand side. It was winner after winner as Keys hit 16 to just four (!) unforced errors. Cibulkova didn’t play a particularly bad set but was overwhelmed by Keys’s power and just couldn’t keep it off the American’s lethal forehand side.
Cibulkova got on the board early in the second set and competed much better, but was constantly under pressure on serve, particularly the second serve. Keys’s lone break in the second set came by virtue of a Cibulkova double fault. Keys was so controlled in her hitting and seemed to be dealing well with the low bounce on these courts and getting down to the ball. The forehand is the obvious strength, but I was most impressed with the variety she showed on serve. The kick serve on the Ad-side was a particularly effective move and i’m getting a sense this will be one of those match-ups that Cibulkova will struggle with over time.
Credit to the Slovak player as she kept fighting hard and she played her two best service games towards the end of the second set. Keys barely gave her anything to play with and the American player successfully served out the match to 30.
Kerber v Keys head-to-head record: Kerber has won five of their six encounters on the WTA tour. Keys’s only win over Kerber came in a compelling Eastbourne final back in 2014. Since then, Kerber’s won their last three matches including both of their 2016 encounters in straight sets in Miami (6-3 6-2) and Rio (6-3 7-5).
Interesting stat: After dropping her serve four times in her first match against Halep, Keys didn’t face a break point against Cibulkova and dropped just four points on her first serve in the 65-minute contest.
Final thoughts: I have fond memories of the finals that Kerber and Keys played in Eastbourne and Charleston in 2014 and 2015 respectively. It’s a fun match-up when Keys is playing at a high level but their two matches this year have been relatively routine wins for Kerber. Keys spoke in press about having “nothing to lose” and the win against Cibulkova was not only a confidence boost, but also a sign she can get to grips with this court. Keys has struggled all year against counter-punchers like Kerber and she’ll likely have to play the match of her year to win. I think Keys has set herself up well for this match but Kerber’s base level is so high right now, it’s hard to go against the world number one…
Halep v Cibulkova head-to-head record: Cibulkova leads Halep, 3-2 in their head-to-head. All of Cibulkova’s three wins over Halep came in straight sets (two of them with the 6-3 6-0 scoreline) but Halep earnt a win in their most recent match-up in the final of Madrid with a comfortable 6-2 6-4 victory.
Interesting stat: Cibulkova had won her last four matches against top ten opposition before heading into Singapore but is 0-2 this week. She’ll need to reverse that trend if she’s to stay in the tournament.
Final thoughts: Halep had an off-night against Kerber but was trying to do the right things by going for her shots. The second set though was a disappointing display as Kerber rather comfortably came through in straights. Cibulkova was outplayed by Keys but should stand more of a chance in this match. Cibulkova has the ability to force Halep under a great deal of pressure with her weighty groundstrokes and bundles of energy but Halep’s exceptional movement around the court will negate this. The head-to-head is pretty even and the stakes are high for both players. I think (with a great sense of uncertainty!) the edge for me is with Cibulkova, but to win in straights? A really tough ask…