Ekaterina Alexandrova ended two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza’s positive run at the Shenzhen Open semi-finals on Friday, with a straight-sets win in the semi-finals, 6-4 6-3.
It was a tough match right from the start. I was calmer than yesterday and that helped a lot. I’m happy I did my best and I hope I can do it tomorrow.” Ekaterina Alexandrova
Alexandrova, the Russian 5th seed, set up a final match with 7th seed Elena Rybakina, who dispatched unseeded Czech Kristyna Pliskova, 6-2 7-5.
Spain’s Muguruza, 26, endured a poor 2019 but has shown real signs in southern China of rediscovering the form that made her World No 1 in 2017, only for the 6th seed to be comfortably beaten by the 25-year-old Russian in 77 minutes.
“It was a tough match right from the start. I was calmer than yesterday and that helped a lot,” said Alexandrova, who is now just one victory away from her first WTA title.
“I’m happy I did my best and I hope I can do it tomorrow.”
This is her second WTA Tour final, having been the runner-up in Linz in 2018.
After the first 5 games all went in favour of the server, Alexandrova moved into the ascendancy, having previously gone close to breaking in both of the Spaniard’s delivery games.
When asked to serve for the set, she squandered a 40-0 lead, however, and continued the trend of doing things the hard way by breaking Muguruza from game point down to seal the opener.
With the momentum of winning the opening set behind her, she then threatened to run away with the second.
Alexandrova’s big groundstrokes increasingly started to find their mark and proved too hot for Muguruza to handle.
Five of the first 6 games went the Russian’s way as she established a double break but, as was the case in the first set, she suffered a hiccup when she tried to serve it out to get herself over the line.
Muguruza then stared down match point on her own serve as a tense game went her way following a four-deuce game.
The Spaniard was only postponing the inevitable, however, and some more big hitting from Alexandrova brought up 3 match points, the second of which she took.
Despite this loss, Muguruza, who is a big stage player, can take heart from her run in Shenzhen ahead of the Australian Open where, with help from coach Conchita Martinez, she will hope to go the distance.
Rybakina , the 7th seed, powered into her third career title match with an impressively cool-headed performance against Kristyna Pliskova, the left-handed twin sister of the World No 2, Karolina.
It took her an hour and 13 minutes and, for the second year running, the Kazakh kicked off with a final run, although 12 months ago it was the Playford ITF W25 trophy she was competing for.
Rybakina was ranked 186 then, but finished 2019 in the Top 100, and now sits at No 36 following a maiden title in Bucharest, another final in Nanchang and a first Premier 5 quarter-final in Wuhan.
The 20-year-old collected her third career Top 20 scalp when she upset No 3 seed Elise Mertens on Thursday, and dealt with the pressure of being the higher-ranked player in a semi-final with some aplomb.
Maintaining a first serve percentage of 64%, winning 80% of those points and dominating from the baseline with smooth power off both wings, Rybakina produced some supreme tennis to beat the Czech.
In so doing, she faced just 3 break points in the match, and impressed on return.
Pliskova’s serve is a formidable weapon, which garnered the Czech 8 aces in total, and she landed a decent 66% of her first serves overall but, in the first set, Rybakina was frequently able to read its direction and send it back with even more pace to nullify her opponent’s advantage.
A backhand return winner sealed the first break for 3-1, and Rybakina seized a second when, facing her second set point, Pliskova double faulted.
Through the majority of the serve-dominated second set, it was Rybakina who wobbled more as, through the first 11 games, Pliskova dropped only 4 points behind her delivery, relentlessly pounding down a series of aces, service winners and one-two punches.
Rybakina had her share of rapid-fire holds, too, and her own ace tally reached 9, including 2 in a row to seal a tight 9th game.
At the business end of the match, when things got tighter, it was Rybakina who held firm.
Saturday’s final will be a first-time encounter for Rybakina as she bids to halt Alexandrova’s 9-match winning streak and capture her second career title.