GUADALAJARA, Mexico – No.3 seed Karolina Pliskova continued her mastery over No.6 seed Garbiñe Muguruza, defeating the Spaniard 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(6) in their tournament opener at the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara. With a 1-0 record, Pliskova joins Estonia's Anett Kontaveit to lead the Teotihuacán group after Day 1.
Wednesday night's duel was the 11th career meeting between the two former No.1s and first since the 2019 Australian Open. Pliskova owned a dominating head-to-head over the Spaniard, winning eight of their 10 prior meetings, with two of those wins coming at the WTA Finals in 2016 and 2017. This was just their second meeting since 2017.
Pliskova is the most experienced WTA Finals player in the 2021 field; she qualified and is playing in her fifth consecutive Finals. She has advanced out of the group stage in all but her first appearance in 2016. In fact, Pliskova and Muguruza are the only members of the elite eight to have played a WTA Finals before, with Muguruza making her return for the first time since 2017.
Tale of the Match: Pliskova opened the match with an early break to lead 2-0, but a shaky service game that included two double faults handed the advantage back immediately and Muguruza took control of the first set. Pliskova struggled to find her rhythm on return and her range, hitting 18 unforced errors to just five winners.
"I actually think I started the match quite OK, not like feeling amazing," Pliskova said after the match. "But with 2-0, losing two of my service games in a row, I think that's a huge mistake. One can happen, but two I think is too much. She just made sure I don't really get another chance to break her. Still, it was 4-6. It was pretty close the first set.
Pliskova once again jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second set, but this time the Czech's serve was impervious. Pliskova served 89% of her first serves in and lost just two points on serve for the set. As the Wimbledon finalist rolled through her service games with ease, her growing confidence translated into her return games.
Pliskova won just 33% of her second serve return points in the opening set and turned the tables on Muguruza in the second, winning 62%.
"I just went for it a bit more," Pliskova said. "I thought I was a bit too passive in the first set and still making mistakes. I said, 'OK, just go for it a bit more. If I'm still making mistakes, at least I will have some winners.' Especially the second serve, I wanted to put pressure on it. It paid off. I think I really played good that second set."
Said Muguruza: "I felt like in the second set, I didn't serve as good as the first set. At the beginning, I got that break. I think she started to play, to do things, to serve especially.
"I think she started to serve well beginning of the second set. That's her biggest weapon. That made the match a little bit tighter. The third set I managed to come back a little bit better. That was the real battle, the third set."
How the match was won: Going into the decider, Pliskova posted an 11-4 record in three-set matches in 2021, while Muguruza was 7-7. After an opening exchange of breaks in the final set, the two would hold serve for the remainder of the match. But not without drama that had the Mexican crowd raucous and riveted.
With Muguruza serving at 4-5, a clean Pliskova return winner at 30-all earned the Czech the first of two match points. Muguruza wiped out the first with an unreturnable serve wide and saved the second as Pliskova hit an errant backhand. With the energized crowd behind her, Muguruza held serve to 5-5 and earned two quick opportunities to break in the next game.
This time it was Pliskova's turn to dodge trouble. From 15-40 down, Pliskova leveled the game at deuce and held. Muguruza responded with a hold of her own and the two headed to a decisive tiebreak.
In the tiebreak, Muguruza stayed on the front foot but could not pull away from Pliskova, who struggled to win points on her own serve. But serving at 5-4, Muguruza could not convert behind her serve and Pliskova earned a third match point, this time on her own serve. Muguruza came through again, pulling Pliskova wide to the forehand and earning an error long.
But an errant Muguruza forehand would give Pliskova her fourth match point and this time the No.3 seed converted as the Spaniard landed another forehand wide after 2 hours and 26 minutes to give Pliskova a hard-fought, physical win. The win improved Pliskova's 2021 record in tiebreaks to 8-5 and her three-set record to 12-4.
This match is not gonna let me sleep for a while tonight. 🙈 both women left it all out there and I’m so happy we got the W. Could have gone either way at the end. 🙏🏽 https://t.co/b7VErT25CT— sascha Bajin (@BigSascha) November 11, 2021
Muguruza reflects on a tough loss: "Well, that was a very tough match for both of us. I think it was actually one point the difference because we reached the tiebreak and I saved many match points. Man, that was a painful loss definitely.
"I fought as hard as I could. At the end it was just one point difference. I'm actually proud of the match I played due to the circumstances. I loved the crowd. Even though I suffered during this match, I also felt very energized and motivated to play in Mexico."
Pliskova on the importance of getting a win in your first match of round robin play: "Honestly I think it's huge because, of course, you can relax a bit more. It's not like you can lose the next match. Of course, nobody wants to lose any match. But it's like, OK, you have at least that one win, there's not such a pressure that you need to win every other match.
"If I just lose this match tonight, I think I'm gone because it was big, having couple match points, breakpoints there, I was so close to making it even before the tiebreak. Then, of course, I was quite close to also losing it."