After making what could only be described as an explosive debut in Singapore in 2014, Halep arrives older, more experienced and confident after what has been an ‘A’ class year for the Romanian. After a fairly solid run in Asia leading up to the tournament, Halep arrives a little more prepared than perhaps last year.
“She said: My year was great because I won Madrid, my special tournament, and also Montréal. And the best thing is that I’m here again for the third year – A.”
Facing a much improved Keys, she comes in off the back of four consecutive wins over the big hitting American, including beating her for the title in Montreal and in the quarter-final of Wuhan this year.
“I do the same preparation for every tournament. This one is a little bit tough because it’s the last one and you have to still be focused. So it’s not easy, but it’s nice. It’s a nice atmosphere here, and I always enjoy playing here. I have great memories from 2014. I hope to repeat that.”
For Keys, after a slow start to the year, she is also looking to capitalise on a year that has seen her probably the most healthy she has been in her young career. Drawn in a group that also contains Kerber, she feels she has a great chance to make her mark.
She told reporters: “It’s a big opportunity. It shows these are some of the best players of the year, and the good news is that I have beaten them before. I do know I can do it. Yeah, I’m just really looking forward to going out and playing the other women who have been playing the best of the season.”
“Just playing [Halep] in Wuhan, I think she played really well there, but I think a big part was that I got really passive and I got behind the baseline and let her start dictating. You know, that’s going to be something I’m going to have to step up and go for my shots in the smartest way I can, really just believe that I can do it.”
Both have good clout on the ball, but maybe the edge should go with Halep with court smarts – her debut in Singapore saw her stun then World No. 1 Serena Williams before perhaps not surprisingly getting a taste of her own medicine against ger in the final. But a lot has happened since it was Halep’s breakout year, and perhaps older and wiser, she has the experience to turn the tide.
“Actually every year is different. Every year you are nervous. Every year you are excited to be here. Of course first year you have more energy. Like, Wow, let’s see how it’s going to work. I felt this in 2014.
“Last year I was a little bit tired; now I’m better than last year. Every year is a little bit different. When you get experience it’s easier for you to handle the situation. With more experience I feel better now than previous years. But also the first year is the most special one for everyone.”
Prediction: Halep in three sets.
Halep and Keys are scheduled on Centre Court not before 5pm on Sunday (10am BST).
Angelique Kerber  v Dominika Cibulkova  – H2H: 4-4
There is just the merest hint of swagger when Kerber walks into a room these days. This tournament was of course the turning point for the German, after her now legendary epic meltdown following the news that she needed just a single set in her final Round Robin match against Lucie Safarova to make the semi-finals.
It was a low point to a long season that saw her rise to the top of the ranks in women’s tennis – she won a maiden Slam, reached the Wimbledon final, won an Olympic silver medal, capped it with a second Slam and will end the year as the World No. 1.
“For me last year it was not the best tournament with the pressure with the one set that I had in my mind. But it’s nice to be back here. I will just try to do it better than last year. Yeah, it’s of course nice to be back in the WTA Finals. This is my goal when I start the year. Coming back here right now as the top seeded it’s a little bit better feeling than last year.”
Given Kerber’s consistency it is hard to believe that she has never made it past the Round Robin stages in three previous attempts, and this year the pressure gets no less.
“I think that everybody is expecting now that I win and I can go to the semis or the finals all the time. For me it’s not like that, because we have here the best players. I know that I have to play and working hard again every single match.
“It’s really important to go out there and focusing step by step. I know that I have to give everything and just fighting again like I played the last few months. This will be also the way I would like to play here.”
She will start against Cibulkova, making her debut in Singapore after her own outstanding year that saw her reach the final in Madrid, and almost postpone her wedding in the summer after a great run on the grass.
They have a tight head to head, with the honours having gone to Cibulkova the first four times, with Kerber at the moment on a four match winning streak of her own.
“The fact that I’m playing world No. 1, so there cannot be tougher first round, I would say. Of course you have to add something extra when you play against such a good runner and hitting girl as she is. Yeah, but, you know, mostly all the matches I play against most of the players, it’s about my game because I play — I have aggressive tennis, and that’s what I want to do tomorrow.”
Kerber has started to pep up her serve where once it seemed to be just a mechanism to get the point started. Consistency has never been an issue with Kerber, and now with added confidence, does she feel that this could be her year?
“I think it just can be better than the last few years. I never came out from the group and I never played the semis here. This is for sure my goal. But there are still three really tough matches that I have to play. I think I will try to take the experience from the last years and maybe take the positive things and try to do it now better.”
Maybe at the back of the mind is that along with one Slam final, two Grand Slams and an Olympic silver medal, the kids at her tennis academy really have something to strive for.
“This is really a good feeling because I really love to play with kids. Like also sharing with them my experience and thoughts and everything. So I had the chance, and it’s always nice to playing with them, to speaking with them. They have a lot of nice questions always. This is what I also maybe will do in the future, because I really would like that a lot of more people, and kids especially, taking the racquet, because the sport is really nice. I like it.”
The pair will meet for the first time this year, and while Cibulkova looks for aggressive tennis, and indeed Kerber has worked hard on being more aggressive herself, the German knows that her fitness is often what makes the difference.
Cibulkova can be expected to run and run, and if she lets Kerber dominate the rallies, she could find this match to be a very gruelling affair.
Prediction: Kerber in two sets.
Kerber and Cibulkova are scheduled on Centre Court not before 7:30pm on Sunday (12;30pm BST).
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