In the second match of the day from the white group at the WTA Finals, Garbiñe Muguruza will be seeking to end a run of three straight losses to Karolina Pliskova on Monday in Singapore.
Pliskova wasn’t even on the radar for Singapore halfway through the year after she didn’t make it past the third round of any of the first three Slams. There were some flutters of quality with semi-final appearances in Indian Wells and Prague, and a vibrant grass court season with a title in Nottingham and a final in Eastbourne. Once again there was some promise and expectation heading into a Slam which sadly, petered out fast with a second round exit at SW19. The season completely turned for Pliskova in the summer where she won her biggest title to date in Cincinnati and THIS time, backed up on the good form with a tremendous run to a first Slam final in New York including a Venus-Serena double header duo of wins. She was just two games away in the final against Angelique Kerber…
In hindsight, the decision to skip the Olympics was a great decision that allowed Pliskova to fully prepare for the US Open series. Since the US Open, Pliskova struggled in her first two tournaments, but fought hard in Beijing to reach the third round. Performances against Lucie Safarova, Daria Kasatkina and Johanna Konta all showed a lot of character, demonstrating the fight that had been missing at times earlier in the year. The one match that sticks out was a 1-6 1-6 loss to Margarita Gasparyan in Doha where she looked almost devoid of effort. Now in the past, Pliskova’s looking in a great place to wrap up 2016 and she finally seems to be scheduling smart… after Beijing and with qualification in Singapore all sorted, she chose to pull out of Linz and Moscow.
For Muguruza, it’s been a mostly difficult year with one shining beacon of light… the Spaniard won her first Slam at the French Open with a series of brilliant displays culminating in the best performance of her life in the final where she outplayed the then world number one, Serena Williams in straight sets. After a sluggish start to the year due to a foot injury, Muguruza showed signs of awakening midway in late March. Before then, there were a couple of horrendous losses – Muguruza hit 68 unforced errors in a straight sets loss to Elina Svitolina in Dubai and she obliterated her racquet in an insipid display against Christina McHale in Indian Wells.
Miami was a turning point as she dug in to reach the fourth round where she lost out to the eventual champion, Victoria Azarenka in the match of the tournament. Things seems to be clicking in Rome where she reached the semi-finals and one tournament later, Muguruza put everything together to win the French Open. Slam champs have often struggled to back it up and Muguruza is a name that will join that list. The Spaniard reached the semi-finals of Cincinnati but lost convincingly to Monday’s opponent, Karolina Pliskova. Since then, wins have been come to hard come by – there were signs of improvement in Beijing and Linz, the latter where her run grinded to a halt with a worrying ankle injury picked up in her quarter-final match against Viktorija Golubic.
Head-to-head record: Pliskova leads Muguruza, 3-1 in their head-to-head. Pliskova has won their last three matches with victories in Dubai (6-4 5-7 7-5, 2015), Indian Wells (7-5 6-4, 2015) and Cincinnati (6-1 6-3, 2016).
Interesting stat about Pliskova: Pliskova has currently won 11 fewer matches than in 2015 but has a superior winning percentage – playing less tournaments but peaking at the ones that count has helped to secure Pliskova her place in Singapore.
Interesting stats about Muguruza: The French Open remains Muguruza’s best tournament on tour. Prior to this year, she had reached back-to-back quarter-finals. Despite winning her first Slam, she’s won less matches than in 2014 and 2015. Of Muguruza’s last ten losses on tour, eight of them have been in straight sets.
Final thoughts: There are two question marks with this match… Muguruza’s ankle and Pliskova’s adaptability to this court. Muguruza went over on her ankle in Linz, forcing her to retire from the tournament. She was able to walk on it straight after and did get the all clear, but I wonder if it will affect her movement. Pliskova has never played Singapore and it will be intriguing to see if she can get enough free points on the serve. This match-up has favoured Pliskova in the past with her bigger serve in the clutch moments winning through. The Czech player should be well rested and if she can handle the new situation with calm, then she should get off to a decent start…