No one had a stronger and more sustained start to the 2021 season than Spain's Garbiñe Muguruza. The former No.1 secured her place at the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara by making a career-high four finals this season, winning multiple titles in a season for just the second time in her career. Combining a focus on her routines and work ethic with a healthier perspective on her results and careers, the 28-year-old returned to the Top 10 for the first time since 2018 and enjoyed one of the best seasons of her career.

Here's how the two-time major champion booked her spot in Guadalajara:

Blistering start books Melbourne final, match points on Osaka 

Muguruza came into the 2021 season ranked No.15 and in search of her first title since 2019 Monterrey. It had been over two years since the two-time major champion and former No.1 was ranked inside the Top 10 and after a tough pre-season, the Spaniard was keen to get back on track. 

"Tennis players never relax, no matter which round, which tournament," Muguruza said. "I feel like now I approach it differently. I accept the fact that it can go wrong. I'm more open to adaptation, to uncertainty.

"With the years you start to have an easier perspective, to not take it too emotional everything. Honestly, it's a lot about experience."

Muguruza's statement of intent came early. After a Round of 16 showing in her opening tournament in Abu Dhabi, Muguruza returned to Australia - where she had been an Australian Open finalist just a year before - to march to the final of the Yarra Valley Classic in Melbourne. Tallying wins over Alison Van Uytvanck, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Sofia Kenin, and Marketa Vondrousova, Muguruza advanced to her first final since the 2020 Australian Open, losing to No.1 Ashleigh Barty, 7-6(3), 6-4.

At the Australian Open, Muguruza continued her near-impervious form. En route to the Round of 16 to face defending champion Naomi Osaka, Muguruza lost just 10 games in her first three matches. In their blockbuster first-time meeting, Muguruza held two match points on Osaka in the third set before the eventual champion rallied to win 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. 

"You never know at the beginning [of the season] how you're going to feel," Muguruza said. "I'm happy with the tournaments that I played. Also the Australian swing, I played, I don't know, nine, 10 matches almost back-to-back. That was good. That was a good test for me physically, mentally. Just going on the court over and over, trying to have that high level. I'm pretty happy with my performances."

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After back-to-back finals in the Middle East, Muguruza wins her 1st WTA 1000 title in five years. 

In Doha, Muguruza scored a trio of strong wins over Veronika Kudermetova, Aryna Sabalenka, and Maria Sakkari to make her second final of the season. Petra Kvitova bested her in the final, winning 6-2, 6-1, but again Muguruza remained relentless and unfazed.

"Sometimes you work hard, you want it so much, that doesn't help you," Muguruza said. "It's hard to explain, but I felt like for a moment [in the past] I was working hard, I was putting all the effort out there. The time that I had to go and compete, I wanted it too much. I was getting frustrated too early. At the end I couldn't let the racquet talk.

"I feel like now, after that experience, I managed to stay a little bit calmer and to just go and compete, probably have less expectations. I'm always there and always so pumped. I'm just knowing myself a little bit better now, finding ways to compete and not let that energy and that desire, too much desire, get in the way probably."

Coming into Dubai, Muguruza already led the tour in wins and finals, but there was still the matter of getting her hands on the champion's trophy. Her moment finally came in Dubai, where she reeled off wins over Irina Camelia Begu, Amanda Anisimova, Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, Elise Mertens, and Barbora Krejcikova to win the title. En route to the eighth title of her career, Muguruza lost just one set.

Muguruza would finish the spring hardcourt season with a tour-leading 20-5 record, including a 5-3 record against the Top 20.  

Injury halts momentum on clay, but grass boosts a return to the Top 10

After her incredible start on the hard courts, injuries would hamper Muguruza's preparation for the clay season. A leg injury forced her to retire in Charleston and withdraw from Madrid. While the injury would eventually heal, Muguruza's found her momentum broken. A champion at Roland Garros in 2016, Muguruza bowed out this year in the first round to Marta Kostyuk. 

As the tour turned to grass, the 2017 Wimbledon champion would go 4-2, making the quarterfinals in Berlin and the third round of Wimbledon, where she lost to Ons Jabeur in a high-quality, entertaining three-set duel.

After Wimbledon, Muguruza returned to the Top 10 for the first time since August 2018, rising to No.9.

Road to WTA Finals, singles

Road to WTA Finals, doubles

Summer yields rare second title in Chicago

A return to the summer hardcourts saw Muguruza make strong inroads in tapping into the impressive form from the start of the season. At the US Open, she advanced to the Round of 16 for just the second time of her career, with wins over Donna Vekic, Andrea Petkovic, and defending finalist Victoria Azarenka. 

Instead of returning to Europe for a respite after the US Open, Muguruza and her team opted to stay in the U.S. to train for the final weeks of the season. That decision paid off right away at the premiere of the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic, where Muguruza took home the title with a, 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 win over Jabeur. The Chicago title marked just the second time in Muguruza's career that she's won multiple titles in a single season, having done it the first time in 2017 when she won Wimbledon and Cincinnati en route to becoming World No.1.

Champions Corner: Muguruza takes nothing for granted in Chicago title run

"Making finals is so hard. I've been around for quite some time now and I know that winning titles is something very difficult," Muguruza said in Chicago. "To have the opportunity to win four and I won two, is already a great sign because that's something that you can touch. You can prove hey, we're doing a great job. Here's a trophy, we're doing good."

A motivated Muguruza secures her return to the Latin American Finals

Eyeing a return to the WTA Finals for the first time since 2017, Venezuela-born Muguruza could not contain her excitement at the prospect of playing the first season-ending championships hosted in Latin America. 

"It's already exciting that there's going to be a WTA Finals there whether I'm playing or not, but I want to be there," Muguruza said. "It gives me extra motivation to do everything I can in these last few tournaments and yeah, let's see

"In my experiences and every time I played there the crowd is so invested, in any sport. They're so happy there's an event in their country and you can feel the support. It's full of people and they're really cheering for you and that's something that I've personally seen at other tournaments that doesn't happen, and they're as big as the Masters. I know that Mexico and Latin countries will not disappoint in that aspect. They're going to be, like, fire there."

Muguruza returned to the Top 5 after Indian Wells and secured her qualification to her fourth WTA Finals. She finished the regular season with a 36-16 record, winning two titles from four finals.