The 2021 Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara got underway Wednesday afternoon with No.8 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia defeating No.2 seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-4 in the opening match.
In the battle between 25-year-olds, both of whom are making their WTA Finals singles debuts, it was Kontaveit who prevailed in 1 hour and 15 minutes to grab the first singles victory in the Teotihuacan round-robin group.
Strong run continues: Kontaveit has now triumphed in her past 11 matches, a career-best winning streak. That streak, which encompasses title runs in Moscow and Cluj-Napoca, helped Kontaveit surge through the end of the season to grasp the final spot at the year-ending championships.
The Estonian posted a 26-2 win-loss record in her seven previous tournaments, which also included titles in Cleveland and Ostrava. Prior to that stretch, she was 19-13 for the year and ranked No.30 in the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals Leaderboard. Now she is at a career-high No.8.
Big wins: Kontaveit is the tour leader in hardcourt match-wins, with her 37th on the surface coming today over reigning Roland Garros champion Krejcikova, in the first meeting between the pair.
With the victory over World No.3 Krejcikova, Kontaveit has grabbed five Top 10 wins this season. Moreover, she now has a third career victory over a Top 3-ranked opponent. Her previous Top 3 wins both came in Rome, where she beat then-World No.1 Angelique Kerber there in 2017 and then-World No.2 Caroline Wozniacki the next year.
Notable quotes: "I'm definitely very thrilled to get the win, it was a very tough match," Kontaveit told the press after her win. "I think I managed to win a lot of points on my first serves once they actually went in.
"During the summer I was on a bit of a losing streak, then I started working with Dmitry [Tursunov] and was really hoping to get a few wins. I managed to win Cleveland, then it just sort of started rolling from there.
"I've been believing in myself a little bit more, and the game definitely has clicked from just getting more wins and playing a lot of tennis and really feeling comfortable, enjoying playing tennis."
Said Krejcikova: "The match was difficult. I think Anett, she was playing a solid game, she was serving well.
"I tried to see the positive outcome."
Krejcikova is the first player since 2016 to qualify for the WTA Finals in both singles and doubles. "I'm going to have another five matches that I can play, so I'm looking forward to that."
Tale of the match: Kontaveit was the steadier player in the opening set, with six winners and six unforced errors, while Krejcikova’s nine winners were overwhelmed by 18 unforced errors. Those miscues by the Czech reared their heads in the fourth game, where Krejcikova hit two double faults and dropped serve to hand Kontaveit a 3-1 lead.
The clean ball-striking by Kontaveit allowed that early advantage to hold up, as she swept through the set without being troubled on serve. Kontaveit slammed three aces in the final game of the first set to clinch it.
Kontaveit strung the momentum directly into the second set, breaking Krejcikova in the first game. Krejcikova’s superb arsenal of variety made more frequent appearances during that set, but it would not be enough to hold off Kontaveit, who eased through to victory.
The Estonian finished the match without facing a break point, and she collected 85 percent of points when she got her first serve into play, as she took home the first win of the event.
Both of these players will now await matches against the other two players in the Teotihuacan Group, Karolina Pliskova and Garbiñe Muguruza.