The first singles match on Monday at not before 6pm local time will feature two players competing in their first ever WTA finals, Garbiñe Muguruza and Lucie Safarova. Muguruza’s fabulous Asian Swing propelled her into a top two seeding, while Safarova was the last player to qualify by virtue of Carla Suárez Navarro failing to reach the final in Moscow.
Muguruza is currently sitting pretty at number four in the rankings and should be riding on a wave of confidence heading into Singapore. The Spaniard has enjoyed her best results this year at the Slams, reaching the final at Wimbledon, the quarter-finals of the French Open and the fourth round of the Australian Open. After a wobbly summer which saw Muguruza fail to win a match between Wimbledon and the US Open, the Spaniard came good again during the Asian Swing reaching back-to-back finals in Wuhan and Beijing, claiming the biggest title of her career at the latter. Muguruza was not at her physical peak in Beijing but she was still able to pull out the win which was very encouraging.
There have been quite a few rough moments for Muguruza in 2015 but in a year where many WTA players have struggled for consistency, it has been rather masked by Muguruza’s ability to peak at the events that really count. Muguruza is just one point behind Sharapova in the rankings and with few points to defend between Dubai and the French Open, Muguruza could quite conceivably find herself as Serena’s nearest challenger at number two in the world.
Safarova managed to grab the last place in Singapore… heyyy i’m biased but I think Lucie really deserved it after a year of highlights. The Czech player reached her first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros as she swept her way through the draw without dropping a set, defeating the likes of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Sabine Lisicki, Maria Sharapova, Garbiñe Muguruza and Ana Ivanovic in one of the most meaningful runs to a Slam final for quite some time. Lucie has continued to build her game, backed up by the highly effective partnership with Rob Steckley, and broke into the top ten for the first time in her career back in June. She has also managed to stay there!
It’s been an eventful year that has also had its low points. Safarova lost in the first round of the Australian Open and the US Open. Safarova’s consistency hasn’t been as strong as 2014, but she has had the big results that were missing last year. Akin to her run in Paris, Safarova played some wonderful tennis to win her biggest title in Doha, beating four top 25 players and Victoria Azarenka in the final. Safarova was forced to skip the Asian Swing due to a bacterial infection that hospitalised her. If only she’d have been able to play Wuhan and/or Beijing then qualification for Singapore would have been more straightforward but hey ho, that’s life.
Safarova and Muguruza have played just once before at Roland Garros earlier this year where Safarova won a terrific quarter-final match, 7-6(3) 6-3. There’s no doubt that Muguruza’s recent form makes her the favourite for this match. She was struggling with fatigue in Beijing but will have had two weeks off to recuperate. Safarova made her comeback in Linz where she lost in straights to Andreea Mitu. She also lost in the first round of Moscow, but there was a significant improvement between the two matches.
Safarova and Muguruza were involved in the first doubles match of the tournament with Safarova pairing up with Mattek-Sands to defeat Muguruza and Suárez Navarro, 6-3 7-6(1). It was a really fun match and i’m on a mission to watch as much doubles as I can this week. Safarova and Mattek-Sands played a great match considering they hadn’t played together since winning Toronto. They looked calm and relaxed, and were having so much fun out there. I thought Muguruza looked a little tetchy and I was surprised how close to the net she was standing. She got picked off quite a few times. There was many entertaining points in the second set but the Czech-American pair played a solid second set tiebreak to get on the board with a win.
Safarova has been improving with each match she plays and getting a doubles match under her belt before singles was certainly favourable. I’d still put Muguruza as the favourite for this match but there was definitely a marked difference between the pair in doubles. I wonder if Safarova may have an advantage in that she’s coming in with few expectations and is just happy to be here. While the latter can be said for Muguruza, I think there is more pressure for the Spaniard to cope with after a superb Asian Swing. Muguruza didn’t play great in the doubles and I wonder if that could replicate itself in the singles match where she has looked to take more risks and move forward up the court. Originally I was confidently going for Muguruza but now i’m feeling neutral in terms of making of a pick. I’m going to stick to my guns but I think this could be an interesting match and i’m feeling much more hopeful for Lucie…
Prediction: Muguruza d. Safarova in 3 sets