WTA Finals: Maria Sharapova Downs Simona Halep In Straight Sets, Moves One Step Closer To Semifinals
Photo credit: Reuters

WTA Finals: Maria Sharapova Downs Simona Halep In Straight Sets, Moves One Step Closer To Semifinals

Maria Sharapova continued her comeback after a series of injuries in 2015 with an impressive win over world number two Simona Halep.

Max Gao

Third seed Maria Sharapova defeated top seed Simona Halep 6-4, 6-4 on Tuesday evening at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, which gets her one step closer to booking a place in the semifinals. With this win, Sharapova earns her 20th win at the prestigious year-end championships, becoming just the second player to reach that milestone after Serena Williams. The Russian will play her last round robin match of the week against U.S. Open champion Flavia Pennetta on Thursday evening, whom she has never beaten since 2006.

Sharapova Breaks at the Perfect Time, Secures Opening Set

Coming into this match, Sharapova had a perfect 5-0 record against Halep. However, the last three times they met, the match went three sets. After Garbiñe Muguruza won the China Open in Beijing, it was determined that Sharapova would be the third seed in Singapore, which meant she would be placed in the Red Group with top seed Simona Halep. Ever since then, there has been a lot of hype surrounding this match-up, considering how their meeting in the 2014 French Open final was arguably one of the best Grand Slam finals in the last decade. Judging by the early exchanges, it looked like this head-to-head would be going the distance for the fourth consecutive time.

Both women were looking to move the ball around in order to open up the court for an easy put away, which made every game in the opening set a hard-fought contest. After exchanging breaks early, both players had their chances to break the other’s serve, but were unable to take their opportunities when they presented themselves. However, it wasn’t until the tenth game where Sharapova began to stamp her authority on this match. With a number of deep shots that kept Halep a good four to five feet behind the baseline, the Russian was able to dictate right from the return, which forced errors from the Romanian. As a result, Sharapova gave herself two set points. Surprisingly, Sharapova, who had been playing well all-set, faltered when she had chances to break again.

The world number four wasted both of her chances before creating a third and this time, she made no mistake. With an aggressive inside out forehand that forced a backhand error from Halep, Sharapova had clinched the opening set 6-4. Throughout the entire set, there was not much to separate Sharapova and Halep but that tenth game was one of the deciding factors in the outcome of this match.

Sharapova Wastes 5-1 Lead, But Breaks at 5-4 to Win in Straight Sets

After breaking serve in the tenth game of the opening set, Sharapova began to play with more confidence and as a result, she began to swing more freely. All of a sudden, it was like she couldn’t miss. After holding to love in the opening game of the second set, Sharapova needed three chances to break but did so at the third time of asking, opening up an early 2-0 lead. Despite having a few mishaps with her serve in the next game, the five-time Grand Slam champion was able to consolidate the break to go up 3-0, without even needing to face a single break point.

In the games that followed, Sharapova was on fire. Despite missing a couple of returns to help Halep get on the board, the world number four was able to hang on to her own serve with some high-quality shot-making that sent Halep scrambling from side-to-side. It is worth noting that at 30-30 in game five of the second set, the Romanian had a look at a relatively soft second serve from Sharapova — by the Russian’s standards — but hit the return straight into the net, much to her dismay. After holding for a 4-1 lead, Sharapova demonstrated her powerful offensive skills paired with her slowly improving defensive skills.

A couple of years ago, the Russian would have never been able to return some of the balls Halep’s sharp, angular shots, but ever since she has worked on her lateral movement, she is able to dig out shots that would surprise anyone. The number one seed wasn’t playing a bad match at all — she was just unable to counter Sharapova’s firestorm of pace like she regularly does and she just doesn’t have the ability to finish points quickly like her Russian counterpart does, which would stop her from being pushed four to five feet behind the baseline consistently. Even when she gets into a long rally that would normally favour her, Sharapova refused to miss, which made life even more difficult for Halep. Moments later, it was the third seed who converted her second break point of the game to go up a set and 5-1.

For most players, a set and 5-1 deficit against Maria Sharapova might be too difficult to overcome, but Halep wasn’t willing to go down without a fight. Soon after getting broken, the world number two broke straight back and recovered one of the two breaks against her. All of a sudden, Sharapova began to misfire again and a comeback looked to be on the cards for Halep.

Trailing 2-5, the Romanian just needed to get a serve over the net as her Russian counterpart hit three consecutive returns wide, gifting Halep another game, as well as giving the passionate Romanian fans inside the Singapore Indoor Stadium a glimmer of a hope. Now leading 5-3, Sharapova had a chance to serve for the match for a second time. In most cases, the five-time Grand Slam champion would be able to serve out a match without a fuss, and would already be on her way to the locker room.

However, her lack of match play and nerves began to show as she missed some relatively simple shots to hand Halep another break of serve. All of a sudden, we were back on serve. During the changeover that followed, Sharapova called her coach Sven Groeneveld to the court. Groeneveld told her to stick to their original game plan, as he knew she was beginning to overthink this match, and all that it entails. That advice seemed to work as Sharapova broke to 15 in the following game to seal a tough 6-4, 6-4 win over world number two Simona Halep.

Some Quotes From Sharapova and Halep After Their Clash

“It definitely got really tough,” Sharapova said moments after her win.

“I guess those are the moments you have to get through when you haven't played in a long time, and against the number two player in the world, these matches don’t come easy. It definitely showed until the end.”

“I think it was, again, a very physical match,” Sharapova said during her post-match press conference. “I found myself on the defence many times and was able to win a lot of the long points.”

“She was moving pretty well,” Halep said regarding Sharapova’s performance during her press conference. “Like I said, when I opened the court she did some unbelievable shots. She didn’t miss. She was very close to the line.”

“I think she had a good day today. She played her best.”

“She deserves to win and I give her a lot of credit for this match.”