By Jane Voigt
October 20, 2014 — Nothing is being spared at The WTA Finals. Electronic-lighting-bling blinds players, as they enter the Singapore Indoor Stadium’s center court, which resembles a boxing ring more than a tennis court. But everything points to the elite eight this week.
Soon after defending Champion Serena Williams put the quash on Ana Ivanovic today, 64 64, two WTA Final newbies started their campaigns … Eugenie Bouchard and Simona Halep.
They are the first two women at the WTA Finals born in the 1990s. Bouchard is 20. Halep 23. They are the face of the future and should be hailed as such this week. Williams’ is appearing in her 9th WTA Final, having won four times: 2001, 2009, 2012, 2013. She is 33.
To accent the meteoric rise of Bouchard, in May 2013 she was ranked No. 94. Today she is ranked No. 5. In the same month of 2013, Halep was No. 64 and now sits at No. 4. Her ascension to the top was firmly established over 16 months, when she won 8 titles. According to the WTA, she is “just one of six players to win their first six tour-level titles in one season.”
Bouchard, the tall Canadian blonde, and Halep the shorter dark-haired Romanian are comparatively exact in their game styles. Bouchard, though, loves to take shots early and crush balls while Halep has legs, anticipates beautifully, and can edge opponents through ball movement and footwork.
They probably did not prepare together in the locker room for their inaugural match, but each came out with strapping on their left upper thighs.
Over the weekend, both women found out the extent of the media commitment at this event. The WTA All-Access hour, or longer, brought out questions they probably were used to answering, but had more oomph given the occasion.
“Yeah, now I’m more natural with these events,” Halep said, as reported by Sports Illustrated. “It’s not easy. Before coming here I took like three dresses with me, so I thought that I go to weddings or something like this. Yeah, it’s part of my life. It’s part of the top players. So I have to enjoy it and just to be happy because something like this is happening in my life. So [it] is the best moment and I have just to be happy.”
As Sports Illustrated wrote, “Eugenie Bouchard was more proud than wowed by making her WTA Finals debut at 20 years old.” Bouchard, in her driven style, knew she belonged in Singapore. “I think my year has proved that,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been able to raise my level in big matches at late stages of Grand Slams. So, therefore, I’ve earned the right to be here. But I don’t want to be happy with just participating this week.”
Comparing records for the year, Bouchard’s is certainly charged with more top-notch wins. Her appearance here can be totally attributed to grand results at the Grand Slams. She made the semifinal at The Australian Open (lost to Li Na), the French Open (lost to Maria Sharapova), and the final at Wimbledon where she lost to Petra Kvitova. Bouchard made the fourth round of the U.S. Open.
Halep, though, cannot be faulted for her efforts. Bouchard might have defeated the Romanian in the semifinals of Wimbledon; however, Halep played in one of the best matches of the year in the French Open final against Maria Sharapova. The title went to Sharapova, her second in Paris, but the level of play from both women throughout the match was extraordinary.
Today, Halep kept Bouchard’s aggression in the bottle, defeating the Canadian 63 62.
“I found my game and played really well,” she told Tennis Channel.
In two days, Halep will face Serena for the first time since 2013 in Cincinnati. Halep’s game since then has certainly improved, as has her confidence. But facts are facts … their head-to-head is 3-0 Williams.
“I want to enjoy against her,” Halep told fans. “Just [going to] play my game and fight for every point.”
Halep’s 2-set win over Bouchard pulled her even with Williams 2-set win in their Red Group, which will be a critical measure as the week progresses. The two women with most matches won will move on to the semifinal round. If necessary, the number of games won by each woman will become part of that decision. So far, then, Halep’s total for games won is 5, where Williams’ is 8.
Bouchard faces Ana Ivanovic next. If the Canadian wants to do well she has to refine her second serve percentage, and correct timing errors off the ground. She likes to take the ball early; however, today whether her nerves were a bit rattled or Halep was too precise, Bouchard struggled for accuracy and consistency.
And what’s the grade for the Singapore launch. Has to be an “A+.” The seats were full; and, the tournament said the semifinals and final are nearly sold out, too. Finally, the intensity in the Williams/Ivanovic match echoed throughout the stadium, turning a non-Grand Slam event into something a cut above.
This is the first time a WTA Tour Final has been located in Southeast Asia, since its initial edition in 1972. Singapore will remain the event’s home for at least five years.