Returning to competition from a back injury, Simona Halep was in unpredictable form as she took Centre Court at the WTA Finals Shenzhen for her opening round-robin match at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre. Having missed last year's competition in Singapore due to an injury, the Romanian was determined to prove her worth this year.
First up for her in Shenzhen was the toughest test anyone could have asked for -- a first-time meeting with the breakthrough star, US Open champion Bianca Andreescu. The clash of styles made this affair highly-anticipated, especially after Andreescu had her lengthy winning streak snapped in Beijing.
The slow indoor conditions favoured Halep, and she pounced on her advantage to claim the terrific 3-6, 7-6, 6-3 win in two-hours and 29 minutes, being just one of the few who was able to beat the invincible Canadian this year. Furthermore, Halep was able to save a match point in the second set, coming back from the brink to claim the win.
For the first time in over 12 months, Andreescu had lost consecutive matches but she will look to rebound against Karolina Pliskova when she takes on the Czech in her second round-robin match on Wednesday. Halep will face fellow winner Elina Svitolina on the same day.
Andreescu rushes to the first set
Looking to dominate play with her aggressive play and variety, Andreescu rightfully marched to the break in the third game after blasting huge return winners and making Halep working hard for every point. However, the slow conditions made it possible for the ball to lose pace easily, which suited the Romanian as she was able to counter punch more effectively.
Andreescu's lead was soon erased with Halep producing some solid defensive work, and the momentum seemed to have shifted hands when the Romanian survived three break points from 0-40 to hold for a 3-2 lead.
All needed was just a changeover for Andreescu to calm down and regain the touch and control of her shots. Halep was frantically running for every ball at the baseline while Andreescu had the match in her hands, breaking service twice and earning two love service holds to claim the well-deserved opening set 6-3.
Halep fights back in style
Andreescu had a dip in intensity at the start of the second set with Halep taking full advantage, using her chances to go for more risks and ultimately drawing the first blood in the third game. Despite being pegged back, she had the last laugh as Andreescu could not find a ball in, and grew increasingly erratic.
A punishable 117 km/h first serve from Halep was replied with a booming forehand return winner, allowing Andreescu to return on serve at 4-4 but soon required medical attention for a small graze on her calf. Calling the recently-united Darren Cahill down for a chat during the break, that seemed to be the decisive moment of the match.
Halep dug deep to save a match point while serving down 5-6, playing a smart baseline rally to bring the set into a tiebreak. Little did anyone expect that an hour later, she will convert a match point of her own.
The world number five ran out to a quick 3-0 lead in the tiebreak but her lead was soon erased with Andreescu roaring straight back into contention. The Canadian was forced to save two set points, the second with a daring volley winner at the net, but was unable to prevent the third as her second-serve return ran wild, with Halep cracking a smile at her box and walking to the chair in delight.
Halep survives the thriller
Both players required a medical time-out as it was a busy day for the physio in Shenzhen. Andreescu was determined to close out the match as soon as possible, especially with her physical conditions not being the best. Halep, with her physical toughness and mental toughness, stayed with the 19-year-old throughout the decider despite going down an early break.
Andreescu failed to capitalize on three game points and handed the advantage back to Halep in the fourth game, with her body language being negative. We could hardly see the Canadian showing negativity on the court during her exceptional run, but this time with her body giving her troubles as well, it was completely understandable.
After playing a perfect return game, possibly her best of the match, Halep rattled off three consecutive games for a 4-2 lead, but she was unable to consolidate her lead as Andreescu smashed yet another return winner to return on serve.
Having troubles running consistently and hitting the ball with power, Andreescu gradually faded away and Halep, with her sheer determination and grit, needed just one match point to close out the highly-entertaining but physical match.