Wednesday’s evening session is headlined by yet another instalment of the fascinating rivalry that is developing on tour between Garbiñe Muguruza and Angelique Kerber. After both won their opening round robin matches at the 2015 WTA Finals in Singapore, the pair will meet for the fifth time this year.
Muguruza edged Lucie Safarova, 6-3 7-6(3) for her first ever win at the WTA Finals on Monday. The Spaniard picked up where she left off from in Beijing, producing a confident and ruthless display. If you like big hitting then this was the match for you! The pair traded blows in some really meaningful baseline rallies. There was one particular point in the second set, a magnificent 19-stroke rally, that Muguruza eventually came out on top (for TennisTV listeners, it was the point which Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario spent the WHOLE time talking over).
Muguruza was superb in the first set, rushing Safarova into errors with her deep and penetrating groundstrokes, and dominating on serve, dropping just four points on it. Muguruza’s break point conversion was poor, but it didn’t matter as she was not threatened at all on her own serve. Muguruza was in the zone and had this steely determination about her. The second set was much closer with Safarova getting stuck into the rallies. Once again, break points came and went for Muguruza (up 4-3 40-0*) and it looked like it might cost her; Muguruza threw in a pair of double faults to go down *15-40 at 4-4. The Spaniard absolutely cracked a forehand winner on the first break point after Safarova kept finding lines. The Czech player then failed to get balls in court with Muguruza getting herself out of trouble.
The second set went to the tiebreak where the intensity of Muguruza’s groundstrokes helped her gain the double mini-break to lead 3-0. While Safarova showed signs of recovering the deficit, Muguruza always stayed in front and won the key point at 5-4 in the tiebreak, another bruising rally, where a cross-court backhand was too much for Safarova to handle. Muguruza finished with 29 winners to 29 unforced errors; the most impressive aspect of her game was the serve. While Safarova’s return is never going to set the world alight, some of that was down to Muguruza who was forced to survive behind her second serve more often than not as she got just 44% of first serves in in the second set.
In the second match on Monday, Kerber snapped a three match losing streak against Petra Kvitova, beating the Czech player for the first time since 2012 and in straight sets (!) with a 6-2 7-6(3) victory in one hour and 45 minutes. Kerber played a fantastic opening set, taking advantage of some error-strewn Petra play but not budging an inch, hitting seven winners to two unforced errors. In my opinion, the first set was more about Kerber than Kvitova.
Kerber got back on level terms after being an early break down in the second set, but she was always behind in the scoreline making her vulnerable. This was a surprisingly clutch performance from Kerber; I say surprisingly because when these two have played it’s normally Kvitova, with her weapons, that can get herself out of trouble. Kvitova broke to *4-2 with a gorgeous drop shot, but missed two game points for a 5-2 lead. In the next game, Kerber saved a break point and then at 4-4, Kvitova had another game point but Kerber ultimately secured the break with a trademark forehand down-the-line.
Kerber’s one brief lull in winning the big points came when trying to serve it out at *5-4 as she took a little pace off the serve and played one tight forehand at 30-30, allowing Kvitova to take control of the points. Kerber looked to be unravelling a touch, retreating into her shell and playing passively. Down two set points at *5-6 *15-40, she pulled it out of the bag with an ace out wide and another forehand down-the-line. Kvitova threw in some more errors and the rest was history. Even with Kvitova below-par, It’s definitely a clear sign that Kerber is playing some of her best tennis since she made her big breakthrough in 2012. Kerber finished the match with a positive winners (16) to unforced errors (11) differential, which is very good on this surface.
The Kerber-Muguruza head-to-head is tied at 3-3 but most significant is that Muguruza has won their last three matches. Kerber opened 2015 with her third consecutive win over Muguruza, a head-turning, 0-6 6-1 6-4 victory in Sydney. Muguruza then secured back-to-back three set wins at the Slams, winning 4-6 6-2 6-2 at the French Open and 7-6(12) 1-6 6-2 at Wimbledon; the latter was a tremendous match that i’ve probably bored you to tears about going on and on and on and on… it was goooood.
Their most recent encounter came in Wuhan where Muguruza prevailed in two tight sets, 6-4 7-6(5). It was an excellent match with a peculiar ending. Muguruza made a horlicks of trying to serve out the match, botching a couple of volleys. In that horror game, she also seemed to hurt her ankle which was the reason for an oddly-timed medical time-out during the second set tiebreak. Kerber was two points from the set (and probably the match) but Muguruza went hell for leather and somehow managed to wrap it up in straights.
I’m a huge fan of this match-up. To be honest, any match with Kerber against an aggressive hitter ticks all the boxes for me. I was impressed with both players in their first match. The head-to-head is a tough one for Kerber although she did show how her game can thrive against a big hitter on this surface in her first match. Muguruza’s level has been consistently high over the Asian Swing and if she maintains that, I’d fancy the Spaniard to prevail in a thrilling three setter.