The intriguing match-up between the two Top 10 players will feature some heavy hitting from the back of the court with the ability to hold serve a critical component to the final outcome.
Halep's form in the quarters and semis suggests she holds the edge from the baseline in hitting more winners, especially off her more explosive forehand wing. Halep has totalled 47 groundstroke winners (30 forehand and 17 backhand) in her previous two rounds to Kerber's 33 winners (20 forehand and 13 backhand). These numbers illustrate the continued move away from the backhand being the dominant shot from the back of the court on the women's tour as almost two out of three winners (62.5%) between the two players in the last two rounds were struck from the more dominant forehand wing.
While Halep has been more explosive from the baseline, Kerber has been more solid overall, especially on the backhand side. Kerber has slightly more unforced errors on the forehand side (24 to 21) but is remarkably more solid off the backhand, only making six backhand unforced errors to Halep's 23 in the past two rounds. The ability of Kerber to keep those numbers low again on Sunday will help offset a potentially higher winner total from Halep.
Where Kerber looks to have a significant advantage in the final is with her serve. SAP analytics uncover that Kerber holds more than an 8% advantage winning points on her first serve (68.5% to 61.1%) for the tournament and almost a 9% advantage winning points on her second serve (57.8% to 48.9%). Those numbers are significant in such an important battle ground.
Kerber did not do as well with her first serve percentage in her semifinal against Jelena Jankovic, only making 57.5% while Halep was far more dominant in this area making 68.2% in her outstanding victory over Agnieszka Radwanska.
Getting a fast start in the final will be a top priority for both players with Kerber hoping to repeat her efforts against Jankovic, where she won 14 of the first 16 points sprinting to a 4-0 lead. Halep on the other hand started slowly against Radwanska and trailed 5-2 in the opening set before modifying her tactics to race back and take the opening set 7-5.
Kerber's toughness against Jankovic in the quarters is also revealed by SAP analytics when you closely examine her serving performances compared to the score. When serving at 15-15 Kerber never lost a point on her first serve (6/6) and the same held true with her first serve serving at 30-15 (10/10) and 40-30 (4/4). That toughness built stretching a lead will be a key asset for Kerber against Halep in the final. Halep was not as dominant with her first serve at similar scores against Radwanska which was most evident to begin the game at love all where she only won 10/18 points on first serve on the opening point.
Halep brings to the final a more explosive forehand to attack with while Kerber's backhand is the most solid stroke from the back of the court. Kerber holds the slight edge in the serving department but Halep's recent form, including five consecutive victories over Top 10 players, is carrying her to new heights in her career. This is the second meeting of their career but the other one was five years ago before either player could even make it into such a prestigious tournament as Doha. It promises to be an outstanding final with victory often dictated by the player willing to reach out and grab the big points in the match instead of waiting for them to be given.
Craig O'Shannessy is an Australian tour coach who studies matches to uncover the patterns and percentages that dominate the game. He runs a tennis academy in Austin, Texas and a website called www.braingametennis.com.