Blockbuster match-up alert… for the first time since 2015, Garbiñe Muguruza and Caroline Wozniacki will play each other in the fourth round of Miami on Monday. While Wozniacki has advanced through her two matches this week in straight sets, Muguruza has been forced to battle from a set down twice.
Muguruza d. Zhang Shuai, 4-6 6-2 6-2
Muguruza’s form has been questionable at times this week in Miami, but her fighting spirit has shone through. The Spaniard was clearly bothered by the wind in her first match against Christina McHale where she saved a match point. She started slow in her third rounder against Zhang Shuai, who had edged their most recent encounter in Doha last month. Muguruza was noticeably passive in the first set, allowing Zhang Shuai to dictate the majority of rallies. Half of the games went to deuce and Muguruza twice came from a break down to stay in touch. Serving to stay in the set at *4-5, Muguruza buckled with a double fault down set point.
Muguruza’s coach, Sam Sumyk, had come on at the changeover before she served to stay in the first set and while she hadn’t been able to take on his advice immediately, Muguruza seemed to apply some of his thoughts in the second set. Sumyk advised Muguruza to mix up her play by not hitting the same ball twice. Zhang Shuai is the type of player that thrives on rhythm and Muguruza did a good job in the second set of increasing the variation on her strokes. Granted, Zhang Shuai came off her high level from the first set but Muguruza pounced and never lost control of the second set from a commanding 4-0 lead.
Zhang Shuai secured a vital hold at the start of the third set – Muguruza though looked increasingly secure and in control of both her own game and the match. As she became more comfortable, Muguruza was more aggressive and wasn’t behind in the rallies, wearing down her Chinese opponent who began to commit more and more errors. Serving for the match at *5-2, Muguruza saved a break point to claim an excellent win. It’s been a grinding week so far for Muguruza and her level continues to fluctuate – still, she’s racking up the wins and finding a way to turn these matches around.
Wozniacki d. Cirstea, 6-4 6-2
The scoreline was perhaps a little harsh on Sorana Cirstea who played a decent match, particularly the first set. The stats, if you believe them, had both players at 10 unforced errors in the first set with Cirstea hitting 14 winners to Wozniacki’s eight! Add to that, Wozniacki led 5-1; the Dane was serving well, and most impressively, taking advantage of it with an all-too-often excellent second strike in the rally. Cirstea mounted a superb comeback with a series of beautifully constructed points. Wozniacki served out the first set at *5-4 with Cirstea unable to match her level of the three previous game, chucking in some loose errors.
After an exchange of breaks to open the second set, Cirstea looked to be building on the first set comeback with some positive body language. However, the Romanian player seemed to lose her focus as Wozniacki would go onto to win 15 of 16 points to race into a 5-1 lead. Cirstea came back at the end in two lengthy deuce games but she left herself with too much to do at the end as Wozniacki extended her head-to-head lead over Cirstea to 5-3. Cirstea played a good match – she was unable to sustain the necessary consistency against a typically solid Wozniacki. I also noticed the Dane trying to mix up the play a little in the second set with the occasional slice, which was an encouraging tactic.
Head-to-head record: Muguruza has won three of their four previous encounters including their first match-up back in Miami in 2013, which Muguruza won, 6-2 6-4. Wozniacki’s lone win came in Tokyo, a three set victory, 6-4 2-6 6-2. Muguruza won their most recent encounter at Wimbledon in 2015, 6-4 6-4 with an aggressive display.
Interesting stat(s): Muguruza has won seven three setters in the first three months of 2017 – that’s one more than she managed during the entire 2016 season. Wozniacki is already up to 20 match wins for 2017, more than twice as many wins than at the same time in 2016.
Final thoughts: Muguruza has dominated this head-to-head with her aggression and decisiveness, notably coming forward with effective drive volleys in their most recent match-up at Wimbledon. However, the Spaniard’s gameplan on court has become somewhat muddled in the last year and she has become noticeably more passive in matches, getting stuck into longer rallies. This may explain her improving consistency this year, while also not advancing past the semi-finals in any of her six tournaments so far this year.
Wozniacki is arguably playing her best tennis since the dream summer of 2014, which is also the only time she managed to get the better of Muguruza. Her game is rooted on consistency from the baseline, but she has shown an aggressive streak that has become more convincing with her rising number of match wins and ever-growing confidence.
In my opinion, this match-up will depend on Muguruza’s tactics and whether she is bold and aggressive. If she stays back, Muguruza will face an uphill battle to break down an increasingly solid and focused, Wozniacki.