By John O'Brien
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Simona Halep got her WTA Finals campaign off to a perfect start on Sunday when the Romanian world number four dominated an erratic Madison Keys to race to a 6-2 6-4 victory in the opening match of the tournament.
With German top seed Angelique Kerber taking on Slovak Dominika Cibulkova in the second Red Group encounter later on Sunday, Halep proved that she will be a formidable opponent at the elite eight-woman event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
"It's always the same with Madison... she's very strong and hits the ball hard so it's tough to match her power," said Halep. "So I have to adjust, be strong with my legs and make the most of my chances."
Both players got off to solid starts and held comfortably with Keys making full use of her booming forehand to keep Halep at bay.
It was the diminutive Romanian who drew first blood in the third game, however, probing down the American's backhand side with pinpoint accuracy and converting her fourth break point when Keys plonked a weak drive into the net.
Buoyed by the early breakthrough, Halep went for the kill and rattled off the next 11 points on her way to a 5-1 lead as Keys' game unravelled and became riddled with unforced errors.
The 21-year-old American stopped the rot with a comfortable hold when Halep, pushing a little too hard, sent a few returns long but the Romanian's body serves paid dividends in the next game as she wrapped up the first set in just 27 minutes.
Halep swarmed all over Keys at the start of the second set, looking busy and hustling around the court to earn two more break points before the American rediscovered her range with the forehand to stave off the threat and claim a vital hold.
Keys, however, continued to mix winners with errors until her luck ran out in the fifth game, when another forehand into the net handed Halep the first break of the second set, which the Romanian consolidated with a hold to love.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Keys was able to capitalise on her opponent's lapse in concentration to level the set at 4-4 but a fired up Halep broke back immediately before serving out the contest in the next game.
Defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska opens her campaign against Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova on Monday with Garbine Muguruza and Karolina Pliskova completing the White Group.
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)