SINGAPORE -- World No.1 Simona Halep had an excellent start to her final tournament of the season, racing past No.8 seed Caroline Garcia, 6-4, 6-2 on Monday, in the first round-robin match for both players at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
"I feel great that the first tournament where I'm No.1, I won the first match," Halep told the press afterwards. "It's nice and I did enjoy the time on court."
This was the first match on tour for both Halep and Garcia since their most recent meeting in the final of the China Open two weeks ago. There, Garcia claimed her first victory over Halep, clinching back-to-back titles at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open and the China Open, and putting her into the Singapore field.
On Monday, though, Halep avenged that loss in a swift 87 minutes, extending her head-to-head record against Garcia to 3-1, and ending the Frenchwoman's 11-match winning streak. Halep opens her WTA Finals campaign by jumping to a 1-0 record in the Red Group.
Halep shrugged off a tight first set to dominate play in the second, finishing the match with 13 winners, including 4 aces, to only 11 unforced errors. Garcia also had 13 winners, but those were negated by 18 unforced errors, and the Frenchwoman only converted one break point out of eight opportunities.
"Definitely she's very difficult to play against, and I knew how it's going to be," said Halep, "because we played two weeks ago. But also I had in my mind the match from Toronto when I won against her, and today I think I played similar to that match."
"I just felt that in the beginning, she's very consistent and very strong, but then in the second set already I started to feel that I dominate the match and I got more confidence," Halep continued.
Halep used impressive footspeed to force the Frenchwoman into errors and grab the first break of the match for 3-2. But any momentum that might have provided was quickly squandered as Halep gave the break right back after a flurry of Garcia winners, and a double fault on break point.
Garcia, however, threw in a rough service game at 4-4. An error off of a perfectly placed Halep backhand gave the Romanian a second break point of the game, which was converted when Garcia double faulted for the second time in the game.
Serving at 5-4, Halep’s first set point was saved by Garcia when the World No.8 crushed a brilliant backhand service return right on the sideline. A second set point went begging, but Halep finally closed out the game, and the set, with a backhand down the line on her third attempt.
"Today, I was really strong on the legs," explained Halep. "I stayed very low because she's hitting pretty flat, and the ball here on this court doesn't jump too much. So I had to stay low. And also, I was running very well."
The second set featured more long rallies, as the combatants dared to move their opponents all around the court with audacious play. But it was Halep who tended to get the better of Garcia as the match wore on.
The Romanian's increasingly sterling backhand forced an error from Garcia down break point, ceding the first break of the second set for a 2-1 lead. Garcia dropped her next service game as well, as Halep hit a backhand winner down the line to lead 4-1. Halep then held to win her fifth straight game, and victory was in sight.
Serving for the match at 5-2, the No.1 seed survived some nervy moments early in the game, and a shanked forehand service return by Garcia brought up the first match point. Another unforced error off the forehand side by Garcia gave Halep, the 2014 WTA Finals runner-up, her first round-robin win of the year.
"I'm in a place that I have never been, with the happiness, also with my inside feelings about everything that happened this year," Halep rhapsodized. "I think it was my best year so far, and after I had so many difficult moments, I was able to come back stronger. It's really nice, and for sure I will never forget."