In an amazing display of fine court craft and tenacity, Karolina Muchova saw off Sofia Kenin, 6-4 4-6 6-3, in a 2 hour 15 minute marathon in China on Friday that saw her way into the semi-finals.
So, I came late, I didn't come very prepared as I would wish I am, but it's how it is and I just try to make the best of it. Karolina Muchova
On Day 4 of the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai, the 4 round robin group winners were to be determined, resolving which players would join top seed Kiki Bertens in the knock-out semi-final stage on Saturday.
The No 1 seed secured her spot on Thursday when she sealed her place as the clear winner of the Azalea Group.
Kicking off the schedule in the Camellia Group was the 2nd seed Sofia Kenin, who needed to win just one set in her first meeting with No 11 seed Karolina Muchova to top the standings and progress into the semis.
The well-travelled Muchova, meanwhile, required a straight-sets win to finish ahead of Kenin, such are the ramifications of round robin competition.
The last player to qualify for Zhuhai, the Czech looked tired at the end of her debut rubber against Alison Riske a day earlier, but she had recovered from her slow start then to come from a break down, twice, to eliminate the American from the competition in a shade under 2 hours.
“The last few days, I was mostly travelling here,” Muchova admitted after the match, having hot-footed it to China from Moscow on the eve of the Elite Trophy.
“So, I came late, I didn’t come very prepared as I would wish I am, but it’s how it is and I just try to make the best of it.”
The 23-year old is an exciting player to watch, athletic, dominant on serve, and eager to approach the net, who faced an equally talented and eager young talent in Kenin, the 20-year old American.
“I guess I feel comfortable [here], the fans support me and they make me play, they make me play better, so it helps me,” Kenin said after her win against compatriot Riske.
“Yeah, I mean, I just try to take every match one match at a time and it just happens that I’m doing really good in China, so hopefully I can keep that up here and, yeah, and for obviously many more years to come.
“I’m really happy to be here,” she added. “I played really well and, yeah, it’s really exciting.”
The two were evenly matched right up to the sharp end of the first set, with not a single game going to deuce and neither player barely putting a foot wrong in defending serve, until Kenin blinked and dropped her’s to 15 to concede the opener in a shade over half-an-hour.
Muchova was cruising after a near-perfect set, winning 89% off her first serve and 83% on her second, and facing no break points.
Kenin’s 68% and 33% may not have stacked up as well, but she hung in enough, only losing the single break point Muchova conjured up at the end of the first act.
Muchova’s virtually flawless opening set saw her hit 11 winners and just 2 unforced errors, but the second was to prove a slog for the World No 26, who finally seemed to be feeling the effects of a busy schedule, which saw her play the semi-finals of the Kremlin Cup in Moscow on Saturday.
Kenin was swift to take advantage, breaking twice to level the match, but Muchova somehow found the resources to pinch the decider.
The American did well to push her opponent so close in the first set, as she was left clinging on as the opening 8 games were all shared on serve.
Muchova enjoyed a great deal of success coming to the net, while her serve was impeccable.
She went on a 16-point winning streak on her own delivery, which was only ended by a double fault in the 9th game, but she held to force the Kenin to serve to stay in the set.
While the Czech had pushed her opponent on several occasions to 30-30, she had been unable to fashion a break point until the 10th game, crushing a winner down the line to end that frustrating statistic.
Kenin, who did not have to face such a scenario against Riske, was unable to resist the pressure, netting to see the set she had fought so hard for slip away.
The work that Kenin had done in the opener, however, paid dividends in the second set.
Muchova, who had spent 2 hours on court on Thursday, began to make the type of loose errors that had been entirely absent from her play in the first act.
The door started to open regularly for the 20-year-old on her opponent’s serve, and though the Wimbledon quarter-finalist twice resisted in tight games, the persistence of Kenin was rewarded in the 5th game as she finally earned a break.
Although there was a sense the Czech was giving everything just to hang on, particularly after a period of treatment, she drew level as Kenin’s concentration briefly lapsed.
The American hit back immediately to love before serving out to level the match.
Muchova seemed to be on her last legs, yet her determination to win kicked in, and she held serve after a mighty battle for the opening game, and then profited as Kenin played loosely to be broken.
The 23-year-old then recovered the serving she had shown in the opening set to storm into a 5-2 advantage, profiting from 2 easy love games.
When asked to serve for the match, her delivery was as reliable as ever.
Kenin hinted at a recovery as she took the opening point, but Muchova stormed through the rest of the game untouched, sealing a victory that paid testimony to her resilience with an ace out wide.