Garbiñe Muguruza stopped Anett Kontaveit’s run of wins to snag a semi-final slot at the Akron WTA Finals in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Sunday night, beating Karolina Pliskova to the cut, despite the Czech’s come-back win over compatriot Barbora Krejcikova earlier in the day.
It’s amazing that there are four players left and two of them are Spaniards. I mean, that just shows that Spain has a great level of tennis and a great school. It’s going to be a fun match. It’s like you said, historical. Hopefully the crowd is going to be on the match. Whoever plays better is going to get the final. Garbiñe Muguruza
“Today was a match that was, kind of, everything or nothing,” Muguruza told reporters. “Starting the round-robin with a loss, it was never good.
“To finally get two wins and qualify was amazing.”
The Spaniard ended the Estonian’s12-match winning streak with a 6-4 6-4 victory that propelled her into her first semi-finals at the season-ending championships since 2015, advancing at the expense of Pliskova, the Wimbledon finalist.
Muguruza also avenged her recent loss to Kontaveit in the Kremlin Cup quarter-finals in Moscow last month, but the Estonian, seeded 8th, had already secured her place in the semis on Friday with her second win in Guadalajara.
“I have been improving, and found myself today. I knew that it was a must-win match and went out to get it,” Muguruza said. “I had to end Anett’s streak, she was like invincible in the tour and, fortunately, I did it.”
Earlier, Pliskova had come out on top of the all-Czech showdown, storming back to stun Krejcikova, 0-6 6-4 6-4.
Despite the win, Pliskova failed to reach the semi-finals as she finished 3rd in the Teotihuacán round-robin group, with Kontaveit and Muguruza advancing as the top 2, while Krejcikova, the No 2 seed, ended bottom of the table having lost all her 3 singles matches.
“The first game was super long and I somehow lost my focus and, of course, I was a bit nervous to play a Czech woman,” Pliskova said after the match. “It wasn’t easy at all, at some point I thought it is almost over in the second when she broke me to go up 4-2.
“I am proud that I kind of stayed there and fought for it.”
Having never taken a set off Pliskova in 2 career meetings, Krejcikova, who is the reigning French Open champion, steamrollered her way to bagel the opener in just 26 minutes.
“Obviously horrible start, horrible first set,” Pliskova said. “I think was [the] combination of both me not playing really well and [her] playing just amazing.
“I’m just proud that I was able to reset, and start from zero, and find a bit [of] my game, although it was not great.”
Pliskova committed 12 unforced errors in the opening set, but the former World No 1 steadied herself in the second, although she still found herself in a hole when Krejcikova grabbed an early break on her way to a 4-2 lead, but she stormed back to capture the win.
“You never want to start a match like this, with my serve and with my game, not to be able to make a game,” Pliskova told the press after the match. “[It] was a combination of her playing well, me not playing that well.
“But you just go back to really trying to make the simple things with the serve, maybe just to go for the serve which you feel the most confident about. Just to play simple, maybe couple cross-courts, not to go for crazy winners.
“So I just fought hard to give myself a chance, at least to wait, maybe she’s going to miss a couple, because she didn’t really miss anything the first set.
“It actually happened, of course, quite late. But happy I stayed in there and just waited for the chance.
“With [coach] Sascha [Bajin], things are going great. Of course, we’re set for next season, which is amazing for me. I hope also for him. I thought we had a great year.
“There is still many things we want to improve. Honestly I feel happy with him. I feel he understands me. We kind of are working well together. Hopefully we can have a couple more good years.”
Krejcikova had her opponent on the ropes, but failed to deliver the knock-out blow as Pliskova dug deep, sweeping the next 4 games from 2-4 down to level the contest with powerful serves and pinpoint forehands which helped her complete her come-back win, fending off break points at 2-2 and 4-4 in the process.
While Krejcikova has finished the singles tournament 0-3, she remains alive in the doubles alongside Katerina Siniakova, and the pair have already qualified for the semi-finals.
“I think I had amazing season,” Krejcikova said. “I was doing really well throughout the season and, right now, it’s very disappointing.
“I really want to do well in doubles with my partner. I’ll just keep going, stay focused.”
Pliskova’s chance of a 4th straight appearance in the semi-finals of the season-ending event was buoyed by her 11 aces, although she almost undid that good work with 12 double-faults.
In the match as a whole, Krejcikova ended up with more winners, 29 to 20, and fewer unforced errors,40 to 45, but Pliskova had 4 fewer unforced errors in the second and third sets combined.
Pliskova then had to wait for the outcome of the later match in the Group Teotihuacán, needing Kontaveit, who is already through, to beat Muguruza in order to secure a semi-final spot.
In the night match, however, Muguruza had an early break and then saved 2 break points to take the first set against Kontaveit, who never appeared settled, and then took the match in much the same way.
“She was not at the top of her game tonight, I could see it, maybe [being] already qualified to the semi-finals had something to do with it,” Muguruza said.
Muguruza won a remarkable 80% of her first serve points and fired 7 aces in Sunday’s victory as she finished second in the Teotihuacán Group behind Kontaveit, with both posting a 2-1 record.
The two-time Grand Slam champion will face compatriot Paula Badosa in Tuesday’s semi-final, with the winner of that contest becoming the first Spanish woman to reach the final since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario finished runner-up in 1993.
“I didn’t know all of this history,” Muguruza said. “1993, I was born that year.
“It’s amazing that there are four players left and two of them are Spaniards. I mean, that just shows that Spain has a great level of tennis and a great school.
“It’s going to be a fun match. It’s like you said, historical. Hopefully the crowd is going to be on the match.
“Whoever plays better is going to get the final.”
Muguruza broke in the opening game of her match with Kontaveit, and repeated the trick in the second set.
Coming into the match with a 2-0 record after back-to-back straight set wins, Kontaveit confirmed her place at the top of the Teotihuacán group after Pliskova’s 3-set win over Krejcikova earlier in the day, and Muguruza simply needed a win to advance.
“Today, I think, I played the best match out of the three” Muguruza said. “Cutting this long run from Anett, I was like, Okay, is it going to be me the one to stop her?”
Muguruza’s familiarity with the conditions at night paid dividends throughout the match, as the usually laser-sharp accuracy that Kontaveit has used to win 28 of her last 30 matches was conspicuously absent.
As Kontaveit struggled to find the measure of the court, Muguruza became the first player to break the Kontaveit serve in Guadalajara, doing so in her opening game.
Coming into the match, Kontaveit had faced a total of 3 break points across her first 2 matches, but faced 4 in her opening 2 service games.
“I think Garbiñe played a great match,” Kontaveit said later. “She was very aggressive, just very on it from the first point.
“I think I made way too many unforced errors. I mean, I don’t think I played a very good match. I just wish I could have done a better job today.”
After consolidating the break with ease, Muguruza rolled through her service games before facing her first break points of the match as she sought to serve out the set but, on each, Kontaveit sent her forehand returns long and the Spaniard did not waste the chance to close it out on her first game point, sealing the 38 minute set, 6-4.
The second progressed as the first, with Muguruza again breaking in the opening game and keeping Kontaveit at bay with easy holds.
She did not face a break point until she served for the match when Kontaveit jumped out to a 0-30 lead and threatened at 30-40, but Muguruza wiped it out quickly with a clean ace out wide, and then closed it out with another un-returnable serve.
“I think it was clear my serve was very important to not get broken, and to break her quite fast in the couple of sets,” Muguruza said. “Just to maintain my serve and to dominate, try to do less mistakes than her also because the conditions are tough.”
Kontaveit finished the match with more winners, 17 to 13, but it was Muguruza’s serve that proved the dominant stroke, with the Spaniard serving at 57% first serves in and winning 80% of those compared to the Estonian’s 66%, while she also also out-aced her, 7 to 2.
“I think I played a very good two matches,” Kontaveit said. “[I] have a lot to learn from today’s match.
“I mean, I’m very happy that I managed to get to the semi-finals.
“Haven’t played many round-robin tournaments before, other than Zhuhai.
“Zhuhai didn’t go so well for me, so I’m definitely very excited to be through, get two matches in two sets against the top players in the world. I think have to be very happy about that.
“If I happen to play at night again, I’ll definitely have to go out there and just practice and work on that length issue that I had today, just try and fix whatever I was doing for the next match.”
Muguruza will be hoping for a 4th night match when she takes on Badosa for the first time.
“I’ve been very happy for her,” she said. “She started the year obviously further back.
“She made her way to the top, playing amazing, winning Indian Wells. We shared fun moments in the Olympics. We’ve talked a little bit. We get to know a little bit more of each other. It’s a special week to bond.
“She’s always had the talent. I think now she’s putting the puzzle together. She’s playing great. Everybody can see it.”
Muguruza also contrasted her run this year to her last appearance in the semi-finals in 2015, saying: “Well, definitely more experience. Saving the energy that I need for when I need it, being very smart about like, don’t be too emotional.
“I started with a loss and I said, ‘That doesn’t matter, this is round-robin, I still have chances’.
“Just a little bit more perspective, a little bit more experience and mature. I think I’m more ready to face the semi-finals than what I was in 2015.”
The WTA Finals are being played in Guadalajara for this year only, with the event scheduled to return in 2022 to Shenzhen, China.
In the opening doubles match of the day, Australia’s Sam Stosur & Shuai Zhang from China defeated 2nd seeds Shuko Aoyama & Ena Shibahara from Japan, 4-6 6-3 [10-7].
Aoyama & Shibahara now move to a record of two wins and one defeat, while Stosur & Zhang move to one win and two losses.