SINGAPORE - Karolina Pliskova reached uncharted territory at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global on Tuesday, thanks to a 6-2, 6-2 White Group win over Garbiñe Muguruza.
Pliskova's seventh victory in nine matches against the Spaniard gives her a 2-0 record in round robin play, and coupled with Venus Williams' three hour, 13-minute win over Jelena Ostapenko earlier in the day, assures the Czech the top spot in the group, and a place in the semifinals of the year-end event for the first time.
Conversely, Wimbledon champion Muguruza still has a chance to qualify for the semifinals, with everything on the line for both her and Williams as the two face off on Thursday. At 0-2, Ostapenko is eliminated.
Pliskova qualified for the WTA Finals for the first time last season, where she was eliminated in the group stage behind a 1-2 record and a third-place finish.
Her lone win a year ago in the group stage came in epic fashion against Muguruza - a 6-2, 6-7(4), 7-5 to open the week - but there were little struggles for the No.3 seed in Tuesday's affair.
Five breaks of serve secured Pliskova a second 6-2, 6-2 win for the week, as she defeated Venus Williams by the same score to open round-robin play on Monday.
"I'm just happy that I don't have to play the next match for qualifying, because last year I was playing for it and it was pretty stressful, I would say," the Czech said. "I'm always happy if I can win few matches in a row, it gives me always extra confidence.
"There is one more match to go in the group, which I want to try to enjoy, not to lose, but just to try to enjoy the tennis a little bit more.'
Despite never trailing in the match, Pliskova nonetheless held off a late push from the WTA Player of the Year. Muguruza staved off a second-set bagel in heroic fashion, saving four match points on serve before earning her first break of the match, but the Czech had the answer and wrapped up a love break in the final game with a forehand winner down the line.
Pliskova sprinted out to 3-0 leads in both sets, in stark contrast to the last meeting between the two this season, won by Muguruza 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals of the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati.
After saving a break point in the third game to keep her lead, Pliskova dropped just two more points behind her serve en route to claiming the first set, which she sealed with an insurance break of the Muguruza delivery.
"I know she can play very good tennis. I have had couple of matches where we played amazing tennis together, and all the matches were pretty close except I think two, so this one is one of them," Pliskova said. "I remember the last one I lost in Cincinnati, so I just really wanted to be ready from first ball and not give her those chances.
"That's why I started so well. I was up both sets 3-Love, which was important for me to feel that confident from the head-to-head matches."
Saving a pair of break points which would've given Muguruza her first lead in the match to begin the second set, Pliskova's run of games streaked to six straight as she had all the answers to what the Spaniard threw at her.
Trailing 0-40 on serve and staring down a third straight break in the set, the World No.2 found her best tennis, blasting her backhand for several winners which secured her not only the hold of serve, but first break on her first opportunity as well.
However, Pliskova wrapped up the match in short order after the change of ends, securing her semifinal spot in 62 minutes, and seventh win in the last eight head-to-head meetings against Muguruza.
"I'm not going to think a lot about this match, because it's one of those days when, you know, the other opponent is playing good and your tennis is not at the level it should be to play against this type of player," Muguruza said in defeat.
"I'm just going to concentrate on my next match, because I know I have some chances still."
Pliskova will face Ostapenko in the final match of the White Group, which cannot affect the outcomes already decided for either player.
"I think it's going to be different for both of us, because she cannot go out of the group, so it's for both of us going to be quite different match," she said. "I just want to win, you know, like every other match. Maybe it's going to have little bit different atmosphere than this one or the first one, but still, it's a match.
"I don't want to lose any of those matches when I'm playing, so it would be nice to win all the three in the group."