Zhuhai | Muguruza fights for win over Zhang
The last match of the Elite Trophy on Wednesday gave Garbiñe Muguruza a scare as she was made to work in her opening match, needing over two hours to defeat Chinese wildcard Zhang Shuai.
I think there's plenty of reasons to be happy to be playing here and hopefully get a good win and finish the year with a good taste, Garbine Muguruza
The No 7 seed from Spain eventually came through the tough three-setter, 3-6 6-3 6-2, to lead the Camellia Group, which also includes Anastasija Sevastova in addition to Zhang, who will be back in action on Thursday against the Latvian as she seeks her first win in Zhuhai.
Muguruza, the only former Grand Slam champion in the field, came to Zhuhai to end her season on a high note after failing to recreate the success that had once seen her rise to WTA World No 1.
After an indifferent season in which she claimed just one title in 2018, in Monterrey, and reached the semi-finals at the French Open, the only major where she made it past the second round, the Spaniard is looking to revive her success ahead of 2019.
She got off to a slow start, however, against the home favourite Zhang, falling behind an early break at 2-0 as her opponent came out of the gate firing.
That lone break proved to be decisive, with Muguruza failing to find a way to recover, and although Zhang fought off 2 break chances to hold at 4-1, the Chinese kept her nose in front, serving out the opening set with ease.
The former French and Wimbledon champion managed to up her game in the second, and piled on the pressure on Zhang.
She created 7 break chances across 2 marathon Zhang service games before her efforts were finally rewarded later at 4-2 with her first break of the match.
Muguruza found another level to close out the set, levelling the score to send them into a decider.
The final set was a tug-of-war battle as both players wrestled for the momentum, trading 6 breaks between the two of them, but it was Muguruza who came out on top, edging ahead after 5 straight breaks to grab a 4-2 lead.
She served out the match to win after a hard-fought 2 hours and 3 minutes on the stadium court.
“I think there’s plenty of reasons to be happy to be playing here and hopefully get a good win and finish the year with a good taste,” she said before the match.
“I knew at some point that some ups and downs were going to come, especially with the body, or just it’s very difficult to keep for a lot of years the same high level.
“It’s kind of tricky for everybody. I’m just trying to keep the enthusiasm. I feel I’m a very competitive person, so even though there are tough moments or you feel injured sometimes, I know that the hard work will pay eventually.”
Making her debut in Zhuhai, Muguruza extended her lead in their head-to-head to 3-1 after three consecutive wins over the Chinese.
The second Spanish player to contest the event after Suárez Navarro is on an 11-match winning streak against wildcards, with the last defeat coming against Konta at 2015 Eastbourne.
Zhang, the lowest-ranked player in the field, aims to reach the second semi-finals in two appearances in Zhuhai after she surrendered to Kvitova in 2016.