Tennis: Halep on brink of WTA Finals Singapore spot

Romanian Simona Halep hits a backhand against Yaroslava Shvedova in the Wuhan Open round of 16. She won in straight sets to set up a clash wtih American Madison Keys and a chance to qualify for the WTA Finals Singapore.
Romanian Simona Halep hits a backhand against Yaroslava Shvedova in the Wuhan Open round of 16. She won in straight sets to set up a clash wtih American Madison Keys and a chance to qualify for the WTA Finals Singapore.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

World No. 5, a win away from reaching the WTA Finals, feels fresh and confident

Simona Halep will become the third player to qualify for the season-ending WTA Finals Singapore should she beat American Madison Keys in today's Wuhan Open quarter-finals

Confidence is key to unlocking aggression for the world No. 5, who has been overpowered by stronger players like Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber this season.

Halep, who is usually content with chasing down balls and hitting from behind the baseline, won only once in six meetings against the duo this year, defeating Kerber in Montreal in July. Yet she feels that she is hitting her top form this year only right now.

After her comfortable 6-3, 6-3 win over Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan in the round of 16, the Romanian, who turned 25 on Tuesday, said: "At the beginning of the year, I couldn't play at a high level because I was sick and needed time to rest... and I couldn't be so aggressive. I didn't have energy.

"Sometimes when the players are (hitting from) back of the baseline, it's because of the (lack of) confidence. Your style is always the same, but if you have the confidence, you can go for more. If not, you stay back."

Should she make her third consecutive appearance at the Singapore Indoor Stadium at the WTA Finals next month, she is certain that she will be in top condition.

Halep finished second to Williams in the 2014 edition, and she targets to improve on her showing last year, when she failed to make it past the group stage.

She said: "I have great memories from 2014, it was amazing. But last year I was a little tired so I couldn't play my best tennis.

"But I feel confident now, and I just got to build my confidence more and more. It's like it's right in the middle of the season for me."

On Tuesday, however, she suffered a minor health scare during her doubles match with partner Jelena Ostapenko.

"She hit me with the ball, like 150kmh. I was dizzy in the first moment, but then was much better," Halep said.

She added that she was cleared by doctors to play against Shvedova.

While Halep's qualification will not come as a surprise to many, Svetlana Kuznetsova's would.

The 33-year-old Russian is enjoying a career resurgence and she is in contention to snap up one of the six remaining singles spots for the tournament, which will feature the eight best-performing singles and doubles players of this year.

The two-time Grand Slam winner knocked out defending champion Venus Williams 6-2, 6-2 yesterday.

The win boosted the world No. 10's chances of returning to her first WTA Finals since 2009.

Kuznetsova, who has finished outside the top 20 for the last four years, said: "I've been struggling with my ranking. Now, the possibility to be in Singapore definitely makes me feel better and gives me more motivation as well."

World No. 1 Kerber and 22-time Major champion Williams were the first two singles players to qualify.

Late last night, Kerber suffered her first defeat as world No. 1, as former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova beat her 6-7 (10-12), 7-5, 6-4 in a titanic 3hr 19min round-of-16 battle .

WUHAN OPEN

Q-finals: StarHub Ch203, 7pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2016, with the headline 'Halep on brink of S'pore spot'. Print Edition | Subscribe