By Julian Linden
If beating Serena Williams is considered the toughest challenge in women’s tennis, then spare a thought for Romania’s Simona Halep.
To win the WTA Finals, Halep faces the daunting prospect of defeating Williams, not once, but twice in less than a week.
The pint-sized Romanian pulled off a stunning 6-0 6-2 win over Williams in the group stage of this week’s elite season-ending event.
But now she has to do it again to take the title after the pair were pitted against each other in Sunday’s final at Singapore’s National Indoor Stadium.
“I feel that I have nothing to lose in this final,” offered Halep, who booked her place in the title match with a clinical 6-2 6-2 win over Agnieszka Radwanska in the semi-finals.
“Before coming here, I didn’t expect this result, and now I have no pressure, nothing to lose.
“I’m playing against the number one in the world again. I did this week, but it’s another day, so we’ll see what is going to happen there.”
Williams sealed her place in the final after a 2-6 6-3 7-6(6) victory against Caroline Wozniacki, although she was fortunate just to make the semis.
After losing to Halep in the round-robin phase, her progress was reliant on other results going her way and, ironically, it was Halep that saved her.
Had the 23-year-old Romanian lost her final group match to Ana Ivanovic in straight sets, Williams would not have qualified for the semis.
Halep did lose the first set to Ivanovic but rallied back to win the second. She went on to lose the match but by pushing it to three she allowed Williams to advance.
Asked by reporters whether she considered her chances of winning the tournament might have been improved if Williams was knocked out, Halep replied: “No, no.
“I just wanted to play my game yesterday against Ivanovic. I didn’t think that I can eliminate Serena. Every time when I go on court I just want to do everything I can to win the match.
“I play with pleasure. I love tennis. I don’t care about results, but when the results are coming so I’m really happy.
“Tomorrow, yeah, will be maybe more tough, because she will be very focused. But, you know, it’s a good experience for me too.”
Halep, one of the most improved players in women’s tennis has not given up hope of beating Williams again and was in great form against Radwanska.
Halep broke Radwanska’s serve five times and racked up 26 winners against the Pole, including an overhead smash to seal her lopsided victory in just 67 minutes.
Ranked 64th in the world early last year, the 1.68 metre (5ft 6in) Halep has quickly established herself as one of the game’s rising stars.
In June 2013, she won her first WTA title. Then her second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth before the end of the season. The WTA, in one of its easiest decisions, named her as the tour’s most improved player.
At the start of this year, Halep won her first Premier-level event, at Qatar, then made her first grand slam final, at the French Open, finishing runner-up to Maria Sharapova.
But her demolition of Williams — the American’s heaviest defeat in 16 years — captured the attention and respect of everyone in the tennis world.
“My goal is to win three games,” Williams said when asked about their rematch.
“Hopefully I can hold serve. That would be good. Most of all, I hope to break once. So I’m starting out with low goals.”