Tennis: WTA Finals Singapore wide open says Simona Halep

Hardcourt form of world No. 2 means she is tipped to win WTA title in Williams' absence

Simona Halep, who beat Serena Williams in the WTA Finals group stage last year, signs a fan's shirt at the Indoor Stadium yesterday.
Simona Halep, who beat Serena Williams in the WTA Finals group stage last year, signs a fan's shirt at the Indoor Stadium yesterday.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Simona Halep is sorry Serena Williams had to withdraw from the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore to tend to her health but the Romanian is certainly not disappointed a new winner will be crowned at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Nov 1.

The absence of the American has opened up the tournament presented by SC Global, said Halep. It has also made her, on paper, the favourite to win the prestigious US$7 million (S$9.73 million) season finale.

"Everyone has a chance to win," she said yesterday, shortly after a practice session. "The tournament is open, in my opinion."

With some competitors struggling recently with injury and illness, the world No. 2 is aware that she has a shot at making history here. She also had an impressive debut last year, posting a big win over Williams in the group stage and eventually finishing runner-up.

Halep is the Tour's best hardcourt player this year. She is tied with Williams for the most titles on the surface - three - but with 10 more match wins.

She has the memory of her "biggest match ever" to spur her on, she has confidence, and surprisingly, no pressure. She said: "I don't feel pressure. I am the top-ranked player here but it's not a big deal in this tournament because everyone is in the top 10. Everyone plays good tennis at the highest level."

What she has going for her is the last three weeks she has spent preparing for Singapore after securing her berth early, unlike others who are still vying for a spot.

German Angelique Kerber became the latest player to qualify yesterday, securing the sixth spot.

Flavia Pennetta beat Daria Gavrilova 6-2, 6-4 yesterday at the Kremlin Cup to further boost her chances of qualifying. Lucie Safarova lost 1-6, 7-6 (7-2), 3-6 to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, but remains in the running as do Carla Suarez Navarro and Karolina Pliskova, who are also in Moscow.

Said Halep: "I'm fresh to start the tournament but I also need to be very focused for the first (match because) when you start, it's difficult to play."

After a season of ups and downs during which she won the biggest title of her career at Indian Wells, but suffered early exits at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Halep said she has learnt to cast off expectations.

She said: "(I learnt) just to play relaxed, enjoy the tennis, be focused on what you have to do. I have confidence coming back here, but it's better to be focused (on the match you are playing)."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2015, with the headline 'Finals wide open: Halep'. Subscribe