Kontaveit upsets Krejcikova in opening WTA Finals match

The Akron WTA Finals may have a depleted field, with the absence of big names such as Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, but it already has notched up drama in Guadalajara, Mexico, when action got under way on Wednesday and rookie Anett Kontaveit upset second seed Barbora Krejcikova.

The match was difficult. I think Anett, she was playing a solid game, she was serving well. I tried to see the positive outcome. I'm going to have another five matches that I can play, so I'm looking forward to that. Barbora Krejcikova

In fact, both are making their debuts in the competition, but it was the Estonian, the 8th seed, who prevailed 6-3 6-4 in the opening match, which was a battle between 25-year-olds that lasted an hour 15 minutes.

“I’m definitely very thrilled to get the win, it was a very tough match,” Kontaveit told the press after her win. “I think I managed to win a lot of points on my first serves once they actually went in.”

As Kontaveit went to the top of Group Teotihuacán, she was later joined there by Karolina Pliskova after the Czech edged past Garbiñe Muguruza in a late night thriller.

World No 1 and defending WTA Finals champion Barty announced last month that she would not participate due to strict COVID-19 quarantine requirements in Australia, while Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, is injured, and 4-time Grand Slam winner Osaka remains on an extended break from the sport.

Only two of 2021’s Grand Slam finalists are in Guadalajara, Krejcikova, the World No 3 who won the French Open in June, and her compatriot Karolina Pliskova, beaten by Barty in the final of Wimbledon the following month.

Kontaveit proved the steadier in her opening set against Krejcikova, with 6 winners and 6 unforced errors, while the Czech’s 9 winners were overwhelmed by 18 miscues.

Those mistakes appeared in the 4th game, where she hit two double-faults and dropped serve to hand Kontaveit a 3-1 lead.

Clean hitting by the Estonian enabled her to build on the early advantage, as she swept through the set without being troubled on serve, nailing 3 aces in the final game to clinch it.

Kontaveit held the momentum into the second set, breaking Krejcikova in the first game and although the Czech’s superb arsenal made more frequent appearances, she could not hold off the Estonian as she eased through to the win, finishing the match without facing a break point, and she collecting 85 percent of points when she got her first serve into play.

“During the summer I was on a bit of a losing streak, then I started working with Dmitry [Tursunov] and was really hoping to get a few wins,” Kontaveit said. “I managed to win Cleveland, then it just sort of started rolling from there.

“I’ve been believing in myself a little bit more, and the game definitely has clicked from just getting more wins and playing a lot of tennis and really feeling comfortable, enjoying playing tennis.”

Kontaveit has won her past 11 matches, a career-best run that included titles in Moscow and Cluj-Napoca, and she posted a 26-2 win-loss record in her 7 previous tournaments, which also included titles in Cleveland and Ostrava.

“The match was difficult,” admitted Krejcikova. “I think Anett, she was playing a solid game, she was serving well.

“I tried to see the positive outcome.”

Krejcikova, the only player to fly to Mexico after competing in the Billie Jean King Cup Finals last week in Prague, is the first player since 2016 to qualify for the WTA Finals in both singles and doubles.

“I’m going to have another five matches that I can play, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Karolina Pliskova and Garbiñe Muguruza renewed their rivalry on Wednesday, which the Czech won in a thrilling 3rd set tiebreak

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Both players will now await matches against the other players in the Teotihuacán Group, Plískova and Muguruza, who renewed their rivalry under the lights on Day 1 in Guadalajara, the Czech prevailing in dramatic fashion.

The No 3 seed continued her mastery over the 6th-seeded Spaniard, overcoming her, 4-6 6-2 7-6(6), in their opener, the 11th career meeting between the two former World No 1s.

Pliskova is the most experienced player in the 2021 field, having now qualified and played in her 5th consecutive WTA Finals.

In fact, Pliskova and Muguruza are the only members of the Elite Eight to have played a WTA Finals before, with the Spaniard making her return for the first time since 2017.

The Czech opened the match with an early break to lead 2-0, but a shaky service game that included two double-faults handed the advantage back immediately, and Muguruza took control of the first set as Pliskova struggled to find her rhythm, hitting 18 unforced errors to just 5 winners.

“I actually think I started the match quite okay, not like feeling amazing,” Pliskova said after the match. “But with 2-0, losing two of my service games in a row, I think that’s a huge mistake.

“One can happen, but two I think is too much. She just made sure I don’t really get another chance to break her. Still, it was 4-6. It was pretty close the first set.”

Pliskova again jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second, but this time her serve was impervious, landing 89% of her first serves in and lost just 2 points on delivery for the set, and her growing confidence translated into her return games as she turned the tables on Muguruza.

“I just went for it a bit more,” Pliskova said. “I thought I was a bit too passive in the first set and still making mistakes.

“I said, okay, just go for it a bit more. If I’m still making mistakes, at least I will have some winners. Especially the second serve, I wanted to put pressure on it. It paid off. I think I really played good that second set.”

After an opening exchange of breaks in the final set, the two held serve for the remainder of the match full of drama that had the Mexican crowd raucous and riveted.

With Muguruza serving at 4-5, a clean Pliskova return winner at 30-all earned the Czech the first of 2 match points but the Spaniard wiped out the first with an un-returnable serve wide and saved the second as Pliskova hit an errant backhand.

With the energised crowd behind her, Muguruza held serve to 5-5 and earned two quick opportunities to break in the next game.

Pliskova then dodged trouble, levelling from 15-40 down to hold, and Muguruza responded with a hold of her own as the two headed into the decisive tiebreak.

Muguruza stayed on the front foot but could not pull away from Pliskova, who struggled to win points on her own serve.

At 5-4 and serving, Muguruza failed to convert and Pliskova earned a 3rd match point, this time on her own delivery but the Spaniard came through again, pulling the Czech wide to the forehand and earning an error long.

An errant Muguruza forehand gave Pliskova her 4th match point and, this time, the No 3 seed converted as the Spaniard landed another forehand wide after 2 hours and 26 minutes to give the Czech a hard-fought, physical win.

“I felt like, in the second set, I didn’t serve as good as the first set,” Muguruza said after the match. “At the beginning, I got that break.

“I think she started to play, to do things, to serve especially.

“I think she started to serve well beginning of the second set. That’s her biggest weapon. That made the match a little bit tighter.

“The third set I managed to come back a little bit better. That was the real battle, the third set.”

Pliskova said on the importance of getting a win in your first match of round robin play: “Honestly I think it’s huge because, of course, you can relax a bit more.

“It’s not like you can lose the next match. Of course, nobody wants to lose any match. But it’s like, okay, you have at least that one win, there’s not such a pressure that you need to win every other match.

“If I just lose this match tonight, I think I’m gone because it was big, having couple match points, breakpoints there, I was so close to making it even before the tiebreak. Then, of course, I was quite close to also losing it.”

With round-robin play in the group stages, it remains possible to qualify for the knock-out stages later in the week.

“Well, that was a very tough match for both of us,” Muguruza said. “I think it was actually one point the difference because we reached the tiebreak and I saved many match points.

“Man, that was a painful loss definitely! I fought as hard as I could.

“At the end it was just one point difference. I’m actually proud of the match I played due to the circumstances.

“I loved the crowd. Even though I suffered during this match, I also felt very energised and motivated to play in Mexico.”

World No 2 and top seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, Greece’s Maria Sakkari, Iga Swiatek of Poland and Paula Badosa of Spain make up the Group Chichén Itzá and go into action on Thursday.

The fate of the WTA Finals had been uncertain after Tour organisers called off its competitions in Asia, except for the Finals, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and belatedly moved it to Guadalajara for one year only.



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