All in for this one… in their first ever match on the WTA tour, Garbiñe Muguruza and Victoria Azarenka will meet in the fourth round of the Miami Open, third up on Grandstand, in what promises to be a captivating match-up.
Azarenka has lost just one match this year, compiling an 18-1 W-L record with titles in Brisbane and Indian Wells. All the Raymond Moore drama on finals day at IW detracted somewhat from what was a brilliant win for the Belarusian, her fourth over Serena in a final. Azarenka seems to be in a great place, both physically and mentally, and this was apparent in her recent interview on the WTA Insider podcast.
The world number eight is into the fourth round of the Miami Open with two comfortable victories over Monica Puig (6-2 6-4) and Magda Linette (6-3 6-0). Azarenka was supremely solid against Linette, hitting 14 winners to 13 unforced errors, and saving the only two break points she faced in the first game of the second set.
Muguruza faced what looked like a tricky third rounder against Nicole Gibbs, but passed by with flying colours. Gibbs opened with a hold of serve but wouldn’t win another game with Muguruza sealing a virtual bagel in a 6-1 6-0 victory in 55 minutes. Muguruza, who was two points from defeat in her second round win over Dominika Cibulkova, produced a highly focused and driven display. This was probably her cleanest performance of the year and she was hitting big, particularly off the forehand side, and moving especially well.
Gibbs didn’t help herself out, getting just 47% of first serves in, but even when she did get a first serve in, the American was only winning 43% of points behind it. Muguruza was dangerous on return with precise aggression; she wasn’t going for audacious winners, but more keeping the ball deep and at the feet. Another positive sign for Muguruza was her intent coming forward – you know she’s confident when she is coming in behind the serve. Muguruza won eight out of nine points at the net points.
Interesting stat: Muguruza and Azarenka were seeded to meet each other in the fourth round at the Australian Open and Indian Wells but to no avail… third time lucky!
Final thoughts: Azarenka is riding a huge wave of confidence right now; the Belarusian has transitioned seamlessly between Indian Wells and Miami, and should be reasonably fresh with two straight set wins. This will be a big jump-up in quality though for Azarenka to contend with; her second serve could be vulnerable, particularly based on how well Muguruza has returned this week. Furthermore, the Spaniard has the much more consistent serve and was doing a great job at coming in behind it against Gibbs.
I’m a little hesitant about Muguruza because the last time she played this well (against Timea Babos in Doha), she was unable to back it up. The Spaniard would seem to have the edge in many areas but Azarenka has a raw determination and fighting spirit that can put the seed of doubt in her opponent’s mind. Furthermore, one of Azarenka’s most valuable assets is her ability to adapt and try something different if Plan A isn’t working.
Fascinated by this one and fingers crossed that it lives up to expectation. Tough one to call with no head-to-head data, but i’m leaning towards Muguruza…