WTA Finals Singapore 2016, Day 5 Match Previews: Kerber v Keys, Halep v Cibulkova

Keys

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…


Photo in this post by mootennis.com

11 thoughts on “WTA Finals Singapore 2016, Day 5 Match Previews: Kerber v Keys, Halep v Cibulkova

  1. if the h2h is 3-2, there must have been another win for simo before Madrid this year and that was in Brussels 2012, on clay: 0-6 6-4 6-3.

    on another note, Simona does have issues with her left knee. She mentioned it in the occ with Darren, that she cannot move due to it and she had tape on it today and yesterday before the match. so my guess this will unfortunately be a factor here, since without her stellar movement she obviously cannot do much.

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  2. I am not very impressed with either wins of Kerber or Keys considering Halep didnt fight at all and Cibulkova had no strategy and wasnt thinking.

    I was particularly disappointed in Halep’s performance, she is a fighter but there was no fight at all.

    First set from Cibulkova was a disaster, she was giving those balls to Keys which she likes you can no longer get in this hard hitting battle with Keys because you are going to come out on the losing end. I was expecting Cibulkova to have seen what Halep or even Wozniacki do to Keys, Halep hits a very heavy ball and often changes pace, Cibulkova was not doing that at all. I understand that Cibulkova cannot be Halep or vice-versa but still.

    Even though Keys is improving, I still think she doesnt have a plan B. She looks very confused when she is down in a match, and almost never seems to be able to comprehend the plan of the opponent.

    I think Kerber is on another level mentally right now and she is clearly the one to beat.

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    • Sometimes players have off days, just how it is. Cibulkova couldn’t seem to keep it away from Keys’s FH but I thought Keys was excellent. Kerber definitely the one to beat, she was so solid against Halep.

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    • Interesting observations Bryan, I largely agree. With Cibulkova though I knew she had spent too much emotion trying to put one over Kerber. Keys was always going to be a tough ask after. It is like that with Domi. Keys presents a conundrum, especially being a young player. I feel it will have be time and maturity that helps temper her game to work for her when down. As to whether she can develop another style is questionable, but she can learn to bide her time and apply her strength with more finesse ie. to the ebb and flow of her match. It’s all in the head with her and maturity does help a lot with that.

      I’m glad you picked on Kerber’s mentality. She’s unlocked a champions mindset, and that is everything. It’s what helps you win ugly or beautifully. By default, she will always be a defensive player or defensive counter puncher. Definitely no Svetlana when it comes to skillset variety but that mindset she’s attained and her own disposition is 70% of her battle won. Next year she ought to be very choosy on her tournaments, peak well and give the ranking a little bit more shine.

      Sans Serena, the YEC always seems more open and the onus is more on what the indvidual women choose to fight for.

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      • Yeah but the Championships isn’t the same without Serena… it feels like a void. It’s weird not having Kvitova here also. I don’t miss Sharapova much though…

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      • To be honest, I’m not that into it, just catch whatever is available when I have some free time. Completely missed the first day, cause I didn’t realise it had started. Probably more keen to see what gives in the doubles section.
        Well patience, you’ll soon have a face and an earful of the Pova, she has an ETA for next year, maybe wimbers or French Open.

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      • I dont see Sharapova at the top of the game again. Even before the ban, she was beginning to fade. Girls aren’t intimidated by her anymore. And her one dimensional game doesn’t hold up against the new wave, either.

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  3. I see it differently. Maria has an enormous will to win, deep financial resources to pay for coaches and training facilities etc. (she famously once hired a computer simulation company to help her analyse her opponents’ games, especially Serena’s serve!) and she’ll also be wanting to show that she can make it without meldonium in order to dispel the notion that she only became a top player because of it.

    She also hits harder than almost anybody else, which still makes a difference, and as far as I can tell hasn’t lost her ability to focus consistently throughout a match.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see her back at least the top 20 in the rankings and maybe even the top 10, though it may take her a year or so.

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    • Her body has been breaking down for years though. Leading up to the ban announcement, many believed she was about to retire. Every time she has a couple of good months, something puts her out for a couple.
      The big difference now is that the other women at the top have all really turned against her and are standing united. Aside from Kuznetsova, the most support she’s had from a player has been Serena, which will sting more than anything lol

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