Both players were very impressive in their opening rounds – Halep showing why she made such an impact in her debut in 20145, and Kerber demonstrating ably why she was the World No. 1 and a two-time Slam winner this year.
Halep effectively shut down a nervous Madison Keys for a confident straight sets win with plenty of crowd pleasing shot-making, and more so than last year is looking like she is up for the fight.
Kerber’s path was a little more bumpy weathering a tight first set tie-break before taking her foot off the gas as Dominika Cibulkova found her range, before showing how consistency is indeed her watchword.
That second match had been a real treat to start the tournament off and the crowds are likely to continue to be spoiled – Kerber almost needed a win like that after her now legendary meltdown-come-turning-point of last year.
Advancement scenarios are always fun so early in the tournament, and with Halep holding the slight advantage of not having dropped a set, you can imagine she will try and be aggressive and dictate the play.
But as Kerber said, she can run ‘forever’ and while Halep can most likely match her toe-to-toe in terms of rapidity of court coverage, Kerber can frustrate the living hell out of her opponents – she is likely to coax Halep in to the kinds of errors that saw her allow Keys back in to the match on Sunday.
If Halep wins in straight sets, she will qualify, and if Kerber wins, she would emerge as the group winner if Cibulkova wins the battle of the newbies. Either way, we have a sneaking suspicion that the winner of the event will come from here.
‘Nerves’ versus ‘Over-motivation’ were the words and phrases of the day after the tournament’s opening matches, which saw the newbies under the cosh in very different ways.
Keys struggled to overcome them in the first set allowing Halep to get a foothold in the match, and while she raised her level more in the second set, Halep is the kind of player that will not let an advantage go easily.
Cibulkova had a more positive kind of nervous energy and perhaps adjusted faster, certainly taking the match by the scruff of the neck in the second set and making the World No. 1 work hard for the win. But as she had to concede – Kerber just played the big points better when it mattered.
Taking their debuts out of the equation, Cibulkova has more experience in general – she is a Slam runner-up and has been a deserved winner of the Comeback award this year, and has more versatility to her game.
Keys has demonstrated more court smarts of late, but perhaps still lacks that maturity around shot selection at times. But of Keys wins, backed up with a Halep win, then it will be Cibulkova on the wrong end of an advancement scenario.
While the big attraction is the first match of the night, this has every capability of being a three set fight to the finish.
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