By Ros Satar
(October 30, 2015) SINGAPORE – The final day’s Round Robin at the WTA Finals matches saw the highest seed remaining, Garbiñe Muguruza take on former champion Petra Kvitova in the first match of the day. After a disrupted year, Kvitova seemed ill at ease on court in her opener, losing to Germany’s Angelique Kerber and thus setting herself on the back foot for the tournament.
She may have kept up her spotless record against compatriot Lucie Safarova, but after a mammoth hold in her opening service game, staving off three break points, first blood inevitably went to the Spaniard, who this time needed no second invitation to capitalize on the break point.
It was a good response though from the Czech, who kept her head to break straight back, but not to be outdone Muguruza struck back again to regain the advantage. Kvitova picked up her serving to at least stay in contention but the second break put Muguruza in the driver’s seat to serve out the first set, and this secure her qualification at the top of the tree in the white group.
Yet again the pair traded breaks at the start of the second set, as the Czech started to unwind a bit, this time being the one to exert pressure on Muguruza. With the scenarios still dictating that a win would need both Czech lefties to be victorious, the 2011 champion seemed to relax more into her hitting in the second set, easing out to a 3-1 lead.
With three breaks apiece, a botched swipe at the net and the merest of deflections off the net kept Kvitova hanging in, as Muguruza seemed to buckle for the first time this tournament, swinging wide and long, with Kvitova barely having to do much to break to take the set.
This time it was Kvitova who started by swinging for the fences, but again just not being able to hold on to her break advantage. What was at stake was Muguruza’s position in the mix. A win in three for the Spaniard meant we were still theoretically on course for a Maria Sharapova/Muguruza final, but if Kvitova swung for the win, and could call upon compatriot Lucie Safarova to beat Angelique Kerber, the Czech could force a change in the position and throw the script out the window.
Take nothing in women’s tennis for granted. Kvitova’s break was once more nullified by the Spaniard and the game of chess continued. The quality of tennis from both was outstanding, but at the end the nerves of steel belonged to Muguruza after swinging between match-points and break-points, finally sealing it 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 on her fourth.
With that she qualified top of the group with a perfect 3-0 record on her debut, leaving Safarova to save Kvitova’s chances with a straight sets win over Kerber, and with the German needing just a single set to advance.
It was not technically over for the Czech when she came into press, but one couldn’t help feeling that maybe the focus was shifting.
Kvitova said: “I think for me it’s first time in kind of this situation, so it’s kind of new for me. Of course I’m cheering for Lucie, but, I mean, I did everything what I could today. Really didn’t happen. I left everything so I’m okay.
“Still have a Fed Cup final ahead, which is interesting and I’m really looking forward to do that. The main goal is be prepared and healthy for the next season.”
It was undoubtedly Muguruza’s toughest battle yet, and with the singles and the doubles semifinals to contest, it is a tough end to the season coming right up.
Admitting she was tired, and now just concentrating on getting through the week, Muguruza said: “I went to the court thinking that I want to win the match, not only a set or just to qualify. I went there like, No Garbine, go on the court and ‑‑ if you go on the court you have to go and win, not to be half/half.
“So that’s what I did. I had my good and bad moments, but I’m just happy that I’ve been through.”
If there were any hopes this would be a straight forward match, three straight breaks of serve quickly dispelled that. With Safarova managing to consolidate her second break, it was enough to keep her nose ahead, and even squandering two set points on Kerber’s serve was not enough to halt her momentum as she moved half way to putting Kvitova back in the mix.
It was a very rattled Kerber almost tearfully remonstrating with her coach down a break in the second set. It was disappointing that after demonstrating some solid aggressive play, the German was reverting to much more passive play and it was costing her dearly.
It was the cruelest blow to Kerber – for the third time in a row she failed to advance at a time when she looked to be the player most likely to join Muguruza in the semifinals. Match to Safarova 6-4, 6-3.
The semifinal line up is Sharapova verus Kvitova and Muguruza against Radwanska.
Ros Satar is in Singapore covering the WTA Finals as media for Tennis Panorama News. She is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.