The 2017 WTA Finals in Singapore began on Sunday with action from the white group. Both matches were done and dusted in straight sets as Karolina Pliskova and Garbiñe Muguruza got off to super starts. Read on for reviews of the matches and links to match highlights and press conferences from the WTA’s social media pages. For a preview of day 2, click HERE.
1. Pliskova d. V.Williams, 6-2 6-2 (Singapore, Round Robin)
The opening match of the 2017 WTA Finals began promisingly but sadly rather petered out into a one-sided affair as Karolina Pliskova produced an excellent display to see off Venus Williams in just 72 minutes. The pair were blasting winners through the first few games. Pliskova, in particular, made a superb start with two aces in her opening service game and a decisive forehand down-the-line to score the first break of the match. Williams did break back, thanks to a rather glaring double fault by Pliskova on break point, yet the break was shortlived as Pliskova reeled off the last three games of the set for the loss of just four points.
The difference between the pair was on serve with Pliskova the much more effective, particularly on the second serve. Pliskova was aggressive on return and went to town on the Williams second serve – the American won just one out of nine points behind her second serve in the first set. Pliskova was also much sharper in her footwork and making less errors in the rallies with Williams generally mistiming groundstrokes.
Williams had her chances to go up an early break in the second set – Pliskova stood firm with the serve once again coming to the rescue. After Williams missed the two break point opportunities, it was pretty much plain sailing from there for Pliskova. Williams played the point of the match in the final game with a beautifully constructed point (see below). It wasn’t enough as Pliskova converted on her fourth match point.
Karolina Pliskova – 63% of first serves in, 78% of first serve points won, 53% of second serve points won, 25 winners and 12 unforced errors
Venus Williams – 59% of first serves in, 61% of first serve points won, 24% of second serve points won, 16 winners and 19 unforced errors
Venus’s press conferences continue to be short and rather awkward. She’s taken the fine once or twice before and not bothered doing press, and i’m surprised she doesn’t do it more often to be honest. I’ve noticed some of the journalists (particularly British ones) have been very critical about how Venus doesn’t give anything away in pressers.
Pliskova seemed happy with her performance and said she felt a lot better than last year. She was asked about the whole Strycova coach issue which she unsurprisingly did not elaborate on – why is it always the British newspaper press who ask these questions?! I noticed it too at Eastbourne. I understand they are trying to get headlines – at the same time, I find it embarrassing and frustrating that they rarely focus on the actual tennis.
This was a great start from Pliskova, particularly after her most recent loss to Sorana Cirstea in Beijing where the serve was surprisingly ineffective. The Czech player spoke about the strengths of her serve on the WTA Insider podcast and this was a key factor in this match. For Williams, the serve has been huge for much of the year, notably at Wimbledon. On this slow surface, and perhaps also not feeling at her best, Williams was not able to score many free points.
Pliskova is being coached by Rennae Stubbs this week in Singapore and it was interesting to hear the pair communicate at the end of the first set. Early thoughts – I really like this partnership.
2. Garbiñe Muguruza d. Jelena Ostapenko, 6-3 6-4
The second match of the day was a tad closer than the first but again, didn’t quite live up to the expectation. In a battle between the two Slam champs, Muguruza overcame a wobbly ending to defeat Ostapenko in straight sets.
I really enjoyed the first set and I felt like the slower court was actually an advantage for this particular match-up with some longer rallies and both having time to set up with their groundstrokes. There were similarities to the first match as Ostapenko’s second serve, an area that has been a cause for concern through Asia, was vulnerable. The Latvian player won just one of nine points behind it (the same stat as Williams). I thought Ostapenko was doing a pretty good job in the rallies at moving Muguruza from side-to-side and she produced the shot of the match in the first set with a sensational passing shot winner (see below). However, Muguruza was just so solid and committed in everything she was doing and her level was very stable.
The depth on Muguruza’s groundstrokes stood out at the start of the second set as Ostapenko was unable to fully unload on her shots. Muguruza made fleeting ventures forward but the majority felt well executed and convincing. The second set looked like wrapping up fast with Muguruza racing into a 5-1 lead. Ostapenko hung around as Muguruza clearly tightened, yet a few loose errors from Ostapenko helped the Spaniard to serve out the match at the second time of asking.
Garbiñe Muguruza – 69% of first serves in, 74% of first serve points won, 29% of second serve points won, 10 winners and 14 unforced errors
Jelena Ostapenko – 59% of first serves in, 63% of first serve points won, 36% of second serve points won, 21 winners and 25 unforced errors
Ostapenko referenced the court and not adjusting to the bounce.
Nothing special from Muguruza’s press conference. She was asked about the nerves at the end and said that she really wanted to win. In a fan question at the end, she was asked about her regular coffee order!
This was a classic second-half-of-2017 display from Muguruza as for a set and a half, she was rock solid and barely gave away anything. The Spaniard did tighten trying to close out the match – perhaps a few nerves having not played for a few weeks? This could have gone the distance because Muguruza was just getting her groundstrokes back in court for a time and short in the court. Ostapenko had chances and will rue a missed down-the-line shot at 5-4 40-40 in the second set.
On the whole, I thought Ostapenko played an OK match considering it was her first time in Singapore. There were a lot of errors, but some good stuff as well and her second serve actually held up in the second set with her stats better than Muguruza. Not enough first serves though. The serve is surely the area Ostapenko needs to work on in the off-season – time is on her side! I was impressed how she didn’t completely tail off at the end and she gave off an aura that she hadn’t given in and was still fighting, which was clearly felt on the other side of the net by Muguruza.