The first day of the 2021 Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara opens with contrasting matchups as Group Teotihuacán gets under way. There will be a first-time encounter between two of the season's newest faces at the top of the game and the latest edition of the most established rivalry of the group stages.

Named after the ancient Mesoamerican city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, near Mexico City, Teotihuacán has been translated as "a place where gods are born" - and the players in the group certainly have vast experience of winning.

Group Teotihuacán features two Grand Slam winners - Barbora Krejcikova, the only reigning major champion in the field, and former World No.1 Garbiñe Muguruza, along with another former No.1 Karolina Pliskova. Rounding it out is the most in-form player at the WTA Finals, Anett Kontaveit, who has soared from No.30 to No.8 in less than two months.

Martina Navratilova previews Day 1 at the WTA Finals

2021 WTA Finals Guadalajara

[2] Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) vs. [8] Anett Kontaveit (EST)

Krejcikova has been one of the revelations of the 2021 season. Not only for her shock Roland Garros title run, which involved saving match point against Maria Sakkari in the tournament's longest-ever semifinal, but for the way in which she has taken to her newfound status.

The Czech backed up her Parisian breakthrough with second-week showings at both Wimbledon (fourth round) and the US Open (quarterfinals), as well as a title on home soil in Prague. In eight of her past nine tournaments since May, she has either lifted the trophy herself or lost to the eventual champion. 

And it's not just the results on paper that have impressed. Before this year, Krejcikova's natural talent would have been evident to anyone who watched in either singles or doubles. The question was exactly how under-ranked she was in the former after focusing her schedule around the latter.

Over the course of 2021, it's become clear Krejcikova has a unique style. Her ability to redirect the ball around the court with pinpoint accuracy is unparalleled, and the way in which she can effortlessly place winners without any apparent injection of intensity is a marvel. Pair that with tremendous skill at net, and it's a formidable all-round package.

Her opponent, Kontaveit, tends to deal with all-round opponents by hitting through them. Over the course of a fourth-quarter surge, she hasn't had much trouble in doing that. The 25-year-old has won 26 of her past 28 matches, only losing to Iga Swiatek at the US Open and Ons Jabeur at Indian Wells. She's won trophies in Cleveland, Ostrava, Moscow and Cluj-Napoca. Not bad for a player who had won only one of her eight WTA finals before this August.

The first Estonian to qualify for the WTA Finals, Kontaveit is keen to emphasise she isn't just happy to be here.

"I don't feel like I'm just really relaxed and just enjoying the place," she told the press. "Genuinely I thought after winning Moscow I'd feel some sort of relief. I thought after winning Transylvania, I would feel relief, just relaxed. But it still hasn't happened. I feel like I'm still in the zone of ... the process, the progress that I'm trying to do. I also feel like all of my focus is on the matches."

Even though Krejcikova and Kontaveit are generational peers, both born in 1995, they have never faced each other, even in juniors. With no prior record to analyse, their respective energy levels could be pivotal.

Kontaveit has played the heaviest autumn schedule of any player in the field, stacking on tournaments in her successful last-minute race to qualify. With that said, over the course of her unbeaten fortnight in Moscow and Cluj-Napoca, she was taken to three sets only once, by Ekaterina Alexandrova in the Moscow final, and she feels grooved from it.

"I think we'll see when we start playing matches if it's worked in my favour or not," Kontaveit said. "I don't think it's a bad thing. I like it. I mean, I think it's good. I don't know how other players would feel about it. For me, I think it's a good position to be in."

Krejcikova, meanwhile, is the only player in Guadalajara who competed in the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in Prague last week. There, she lost two tough matches to Angelique Kerber and Belinda Bencic. In both matches, Krejcikova showed signs of fatigue and minor injury, and she needed to sit out the doubles rubbers while her usual partner Katerina Siniakova teamed up with Lucie Hradecka. The Czech Republic failed to progress beyond the round-robin stage.

Here, though, Krejcikova is talking a good game. 

"As of now as I'm here, I feel healthy, I feel good," she told press. "My body is working well. I hope it's going to stay like that."

Head-to-head: 0-0 

karolina pliskova
More Head to Head
81.8% Win 9
- Matches Played
18.2% Win 2
garbiñe muguruza

[3] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) vs. [6] Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP)

Pliskova and Muguruza have played 10 times over the past eight years, the most of any of the round-robin matchups in Guadalajara. There aren't many ways in which that series looks good for Muguruza.

Pliskova leads 8-2 overall, including 8-1 on hard courts. She has also won both of their previous WTA Finals encounters. In the 2016 round robin, she came from 0-4 down in the third set and saved a match point to win 6-2, 6-7(4), 7-5. A year later, she needed only 62 minutes to triumph 6-2, 6-2.

Muguruza's only victories came in the first round of Roland Garros in 2013, when both players were still ranked outside the Top 70, and in the 2017 Cincinnati semifinals, just after the Spaniard had won her second Grand Slam trophy at Wimbledon. Since that match, Pliskova has not lost a set to Muguruza.

Why Pliskova has dominated, their head-to-head isn't immediately explicable. On paper, two of the biggest hitters in the game should be more evenly matched. But it's undeniable that past history leans the Czech's way.

Could there be additional factors to cause a wrinkle this time? Two could be the location and the altitude. Muguruza's excitement at competing in a WTA Finals hosted in Latin America has been palpable this week.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she told the press. "That had a big effect on me. I feel it's great because tennis in Latin America, women's tennis is not a priority. I feel like now people can see it. It's something that seemed impossible, and now it's possible. It's a great, great feeling to be in Mexico and having the Mexican crowd tomorrow on court."

Muguruza, a two-time Monterrey champion in 2018 and 2019, has thrived in Mexico before, and can reasonably expect significant crowd support. But even Monterrey didn't have the altitude of Guadalajara, which is 5,138 feet above sea level. Both Muguruza and Pliskova said they have struggled to get used to the conditions.

"I play flat, the ball flies," Pliskova said. "I feel like I'm missing quite a lot. ...  The balls are bouncing quite high. That's been something what I was struggling a bit this week. ... I never compete really in these conditions, so I can't really say how it's going to be. I just know how the practices went. We will not speak about that."

With seven previous WTA Finals appearances between them, Pliskova and Muguruza stand out as the most experienced participants in 2021 - the remaining six players are all making their tournament debuts. But Pliskova, who has qualified every year since 2016, and Muguruza, returning for the first time since a trio of appearances in 2015-17, still have much to prove.

Neither has even made the final of the WTA Finals before. Muguruza's lone semifinal showing came in 2015, while Pliskova has fallen in the past four. This is Pliskova's last shot at preserving her streak of winning at last one title every year since 2013. Her resurgence this season after a slow start was centred around three runner-up showings, in Rome, Wimbledon and Montreal.

Head-to-head: Pliskova leads 8-2, including 8-1 on hard courts and 2-0 at the WTA Finals.


Starting at 2pm
[2] Barbora KREJCIKOVA (CZE) vs [8] Anett KONTAVEIT (EST)
[2] Shuko AOYAMA (JPN) / Ena SHIBAHARA (JPN) vs [7] Darija JURAK (CRO) / Andreja KLEPAC (SLO)
Not before 7.30pm
[3] Karolina PLISKOVA (CZE) vs [6] Garbiñe MUGURUZA (ESP)
[4] Nicole MELICHAR-MARTINEZ (USA) / Demi SCHUURS (NED) vs [5] Samantha STOSUR (AUS) / ZHANG Shuai (CHN)