Madison off key but upbeat
Madison says she now can play without pressure after nervy loss to Halep
It was conspicuously missing out on the court at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, but even before she stepped up onto the stage for the post-match media conference, Madison Keys' disarming toothy grin was back.
She had just gifted Simona Halep victory in the opening match of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, recording 41 unforced errors en route to a 6-2, 6-4 defeat, but the silver lining was not lost on the 21-year-old American.
Keys' voice quivered a little as she first spoke into the microphone, but that was perhaps to be expected - she was making her first appearance at the elite season-ending Finals where the top eight women's players do battle.
"I definitely think there were some nerves - I don't think that's super surprising," she said, chuckling.
"It definitely doesn't feel like any other tournament, and it all felt new - new nerves and a new occasion.
"So that was difficult to deal with.
"I just think having a match under my belt, there'll be a little less nerves going out next time, and I can go out and play with nothing to lose."
Drawn in the Red Group, Keys will have to face world No. 1 Angelique Kerber and Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova in the week ahead, and she will surely want to erase the memory of last night's capitulation.
She even gifted match-point to Halep.
Simona Halep. PHOTO: REUTERS
The Romanian smacked her first serve into the net, but found the box with her second, and like she had in several key moments in the match, Keys' return only managed to bulge the net.
Halep hit just five winners in the entire match and failed to register a single ace. But she gained much confidence from two moments of brilliance, and a victory that has set her up perfectly for the battles ahead.
The first was a sensational drop shot at the net, and the second was a sizzling backhand down the line to lead the second set 5-4.
Said the world No. 4: "My serve helped me a lot today, even if I didn't hit it very strong… Today the first (good shot) was the drop shot, that was amazing.
"Then the backhand, I said (to myself), 'Oh, I feel it.'
"It was good for me for the next game because I got the confidence that it works - the backhand is my best shot, so it has to work."
And Halep seemed to suggest that it could only get better from here, issuing a thinly-veiled warning to the rest of the field.
"The ball is staying low here (in Singapore), so I think it fits me, I could manoeuvre the game as I wanted."
The 25-year-old was clearly pleased, and despite the defeat, Keys was also able to find positives, walking out with that smile still on her face.
She said: "This is a kind of unique situation where I get to take the things I like, and take the things I don't like, and move on to play another match."
If you win you are more positive. When you go to the second one you say that you feel the game, you feel the court — you feel great here.
— Simona Halep on winning her first WTA Finals match against Madison Keys