SINGAPORE -- No. 4 Simona Halep stunned Serena Williams 6-0, 6-2 at the WTA Finals on Wednesday, handing the World No. 1 her worst loss in over 16 years. The win was Halep's first over a No. 1 (previously 0-4), and for Serena -- who entered the match having win 28 of her last 29 matches against Top 10 opposition -- the loss snapped her 16-match winning streak at the WTA Finals and dropped her to 1-1 in the Red Group.
Making her first appearance at the WTA Finals, Halep has now won her first two matches, over Serena and No. 5 Eugenie Bouchard, without losing a set or dropping her serve. She's lost just seven games in two matches. But her demonstrative win over Serena was, as Halep herself said, "crazy." She had never beaten Serena in three meetings, and in their two previous matches (both played last year) she she was on the receiving end of a bagel set and won no more than four games in each match. Coming into this tournament she had not beaten a top five player since February.
Yet the prospect of playing Serena seemed to unlock Halep's game. She says she was surprised at how calm she was going into the match and how she was able to maintain a relaxed state throughout. "I'm a little bit surprised, but I knew before the match that I have nothing to lose, just to play," Halep said. "She's the best player in the world; she's No. 1."
On Wednesday afternoon it took her just 20 minutes to pocket the first set. Aided by Serena's 18 unforced errors, six of which were double-faults, Halep handed Serena her first 6-0 drubbing since May of last year. The Romanian was solid off the ground, hitting just one unforced error in the set. Serena won just nine points in the first set and failed to put any pressure on Halep's serve.
"My forehand was off today again," Serena said. "I guess it went on an early vacation. Lord knows my serve was as well. My serve was at best in the 10 and under division in juniors. Embarrassing, I think describes the way I played. Yeah, very embarrassing."
Serena finally got on the board after losing eight straight games at 2-1 in the second set. She picked up her intensity and her level of play improved, and Halep could sense it. She grew frustrated with a few tentative forehand misses and despite the first set scoreline, there was a sense that Serena was mounting one of her classic comebacks. She earned break points on every one of Halep's service games in the second set but went 0 for 6 (in contrast, Halep was 5 for 6 on the day). Halep coolly saved each break point and then earned an insurance break at 4-1, breaking Serena's serve for the fifth time of the match. Overall, Halep finished with 11 winners and 12 unforced errors, while Serena hit 11 winners to 36 unforced errors.
"I think she played really well, to be honest," Serena said. "Personally I've never seen her play like this. Ever."
Halep agreed: "I think was my best match in my life," she said. "I had experience to stay very focus and to stay relaxed. I didn't feel [scared] after the first set. That was very important for me. I played unbelievable shots. Sometimes I did winners with her and also aces, so it means a lot. I served well; I returned well; everything went very well for me today."
Serena was at a loss to explain for her sub-par form. She has been hitting the ball well in practice and her serve looked great in her opening win against Ana Ivanovic on Monday. She admitted to not feeling 100 percent fit and is still recovering from a knee injury but refused to use that as an excuse. "That has nothing to do with today's match," she said. "I think Simona played really well and the best match of her career. To be quite honest, I'm looking forward to our next meeting because she is making me go home and work hard and particularly train for her."
Halep now tops the Red Group with a 2-0 record and is on the cusp of qualifying for the semifinals. She has one more match to go against Ivanovic and the key to the rest of her tournament will be to come down from the high after scoring the biggest win of her career.
"I want to keep my mind on the floor, close to the floor, and just to keep working," she said, trying to explain her desire to stay grounded. "It means a lot, this victory for me, but I have many more matches ahead. I have just to be focused and relaxed. Because if I'm relaxed, I can play very well."