Cincinnati Final Preview: Serena Williams vs Simona Halep


Apr 2, 2015; Key Biscayne, FL, USA; Serena Williams (left) shakes hands with Simona Halep (right) after their women

WTA Cincinnati Final Preview: Can Serena Williams Defeat Simona Halep and Defend Her Title

On Sunday, the 2015 Cincinnati final will be contested between Simona Halep and Serena Williams. The conclusion of the Western & Southern Open marks the last stretch of the US Open Series – a section of the season during which these two women have excelled. This match will likely decide who will take out the US Open Series and be eligible for a  $1,000,000 bonus pay-check in Flushing Meadows.

Simona Halep’s Run to the Final

After Halep’s physically and mentally taxing run to the Toronto final last week, few expected her to play well (or even play, for that matter) in Cincinnati. Irrespective, she has managed to take out some tricky opponents to set up a meeting with Serena.

In the second round (having received a bye in the first), Halep defeated Kristina Mladenovic in a tight three-set tussle. The time it took for Halep to defeat the Frenchwoman would have been an ominous sign for the Romanian’s chances in Cinci. But as a big hitter, Mladenovic will always prove a tough challenge for the world no. 3, given that she was undefeated by Halep prior to the match.

Halep then went on to defeat 15h seed Andrea Petkovic in the third round. Petkovic delivered what was easily her best performance from the 2015 season to push a fatigued Halep to three sets. However, Halep was able to grind out the victory with some solid defence and unrelenting determination.

Her next two victories were much more straightforward. After dropping serve early against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Halep  fought her way through Nastia’s impeccable serving and powerful groundstrokes to win in straight sets. Her good form continued into the semifinals, where she dismantled Jelena Jankovic 6-1, 6-2. Halep played methodical, clean tennis to claim her simplest victory against JJ. Her showing in the second set was particularly impressive as she struck 12 winners to just 4 unforced errors.

Given the catalogue of matches she’s played over the last two weeks, Halep has appeared lethargic at times and her retrieving has somewhat suffered at times. Having said that, her body has held up well as she appeared completely fresh and energised against Jankovic in the semifinal.

Serena is a whole other ballgame though, so it will be a long day at the office for Halep if she isn’t 100% physically fit.

Even if she can’t ably compete on Sunday, Halep can take solace in the fact that she has scored the second seed for the US Open and won’t be scheduled to face Serena until the final. She’s also managed to foster a lot of confidence to bolster her game in New York.

More from Serena Williams

Serena Williams’ Run to the Final

Motivated by a startling loss to Belinda Bencic in Toronto last week, Williams has played relatively well in Cincinnati.

She came through her first two matches against Tsvetana Pironkova and Karin Knapp unscathed.

It was Serena’s next opponent who provided her toughest challenge this week. Ana Ivanovic hadn’t been enjoying an outstanding season in 2015, and her form was undoubtedly lacking coming into Cinci. But through a combination of Serena’s sloppy play and her own aggressive shotmaking, Ivanovic found herself up a set and a break at 4-3.

As she nearly always does, Serena was able to squeak out a victory in three sets. But her performance (and particularly her subpar serving) weren’t exactly stellar going into possibly the most important portion of her career.

She was much better against Elina Svitolina in the semifinal. Although she suffered from a slow start, she managed to recover quickly this time and take the match 6-4, 6-3.

There have been indications throughout the last fortnight that Serena is both lethargic and slightly injured after yet another career-defining year.

Who Will Win?

Both players are well practiced in the art of winning tournament finals. Serena’s accomplishments don’t even need to be addressed. Halep is 3-1 in finals this year and 3-2 in finals at the Premier 5/Premier Mandatory level.

Serena leads the head-to-head 5-1. Simona claimed her one infamous victory in Singapore last year, which then incentivised Serena to demolish the Romanian a few days later. It’s safe to say that this match won’t be as straightforward as either of those encounters.

Instead, the best indication of how this match may play out is their sole meeting this year in Miami, which Serena won 7-5 in the third. In that match, Halep scrapped her way through the second set, following a first set blowout. But her grit wasn’t enough to match Serena’s unadulterated power in the third.

As both players’ physical states are somewhat compromised at the moment, I fully expect this to be a drawn out match. As always, Serena has the ability to strike her way to a straight sets victory. But if her level drops, Halep will be able to take advantage and work her way towards the title. A strong start is therefore imperative for both women.

The biggest X-factor in this final may be the incentive provided by the US Open Series and the extra prize money for the player who wins it. Serena is the undisputed favourite to win in New York, and an extra million dollars wouldn’t go amiss.

It may be boring, but I never see myself betting against Serena. With only 2 losses to her name this year, Serena is the automatic favourite for every match she plays. In clutch moments (of which there were many against Ivanovic) Serena almost always produces her best tennis. Granted, Halep’s in outstanding form and her mental strength is insurmountable at the moment. But, via whatever means are necessary, Serena can be trusted to will herself to the champion’s podium. Before she makes history in New York in a few weeks, Serena Williams will win the Cincinnati title in 3 sets.

Prediction: Serena Williams in 3 sets.

Who Will Win: Simona Halep or Serena Williams?

Who do you think will win the Cincinnati final? Will Serena conclude her preparations for the US Open with the ultimate exclamation point? Or should Halep be given more credit? Let us know in the comments below!

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