Soon after a fairly routine win against Paula Badosa in her last match, Garbiñe Muguruza spoke of her progression through these WTA Finals.
Her journey started ominously. She fell to Karolina Pliskova in a third-set tiebreak in her opening round. She needed a third-set to prevail in her second.
But Tuesday in her semifinals?
"Very happy with my performance," Muguruza said in press. "I think it's the best match that I played so far here in Guadalajara."
Without questions, but is it enough to get by red-hot Anett Kontaveit in Wednesday's championship match (7:30 p.m. local start)?
"I'll just rest and get ready for tomorrow," she said.
As for, Kontaveit, she has been as hot as anyone on tour. On Tuesday, she outdueled a game Maria Sakkari in the semifinals.
"I think it's a very exciting moment for me," Kontaveit said. "It's my biggest final so far. I think I have a lot of self-belief and confidence. I'm really going to enjoy it out there and hopefully play a good match. I'm ready for whatever comes. I'm ready for the next challenge."
Who has the advantage in the final? We break it down.
This is the transcendent Garbiñe Muguruza we saw at the beginning of the year. This is the Spanish star – already guaranteed to finish the year No.3 – channeling her two major championships.
Muguruza was masterful in a 6-3, 6-3 semifinal victory over Paula Badosa and, based on her current form and the experience she’s accrued over the years, she looks like the favorite to beat Anett Kontaveit in Wednesday’s championship final at the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara.
“Every time you have an important match, you feel your body, you feel you want it so much,” Muguruza said afterward. “Maybe for some players it’s tough to sleep, for some players you feel your stomach might be close. Fortunately I feel like I’ve been through so many tough and stressful moments playing Grand Slams and playing important matches that I’m not scared of it. I actually like it.”
In her first five tournaments of the year, Muguruza won the title in Dubai and reached two other finals, in Melbourne and Doha, and won 19 of 23 matches. A thigh injury she suffered in Charleston lingered and set back her season. Once again, Muguruza’s in full flight, smashing serves, lashing big groundstrokes, flashing passion on every point.
Muguruza, 28, was the only singles player to reach the semifinals with experience at these year-end championships, and it showed against Badosa. This is Muguruza’s fourth WTA Finals; she reached the semifinals in 2015.
“Just a little bit more perspective, a little bit more experience and mature,” she said earlier, reflecting on that six-year gap. I think I’m more ready to face the semifinals than what I was in 2015. Saving the energy that I need for when I need it, being very smart about like, don’t be too emotional.”
In other words, she doesn’t have to act like she’s been here – because she has been here. Kontaveit hasn’t, and with all that’s at stake in the WTA’s biggest tour event – 1,500 ranking points and $1.24 million – that experience will come into play. The support of a raucous Mexican crowd won’t hurt, either.
“Probably once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me in my career to play a Masters in Mexico,” Muguruza said. “It’s a cocktail for me that’s super motivating.”
She has already overcome adversity in Guadalajara. After losing her opening round-robin match to Karolina Pliskova, Muguruza came back with wins against Barbora Krejcikova and Anett Kontaveit – who had won 12 consecutive matches.
“This is actually something important when the moment comes, the tough moments, the stressful matches, to not fear them,” Muguruza said. “You have to be like, `OK, you know what, I know how to handle. Let’s see how it goes.’ Have a kind of better mindset to face them.
“I definitely saw that there was a lot of first players in the Masters. At the end I’m facing the best of the year. Yes, my experience might count in certain moments.” -- Greg Garber
Sure, Anett Kontaveit has never been here before. Then again, what hasn't been uncharted territory for the 25-year-old Estonian, who has now won 29 of her past 32 matches and is into her third consecutive final. Nearly every obstacle that has been thrown at Kontaveit has been navigated with ease.
Winning four titles in her last seven events to become the first woman from her country to both break the Top 10 and qualify for the WTA Finals? Kontaveit barely broke a sweat. She lost just one set over that stretch.
"I feel like the last few months have really showed me that I can play really well, I can beat great players consistently," Kontaveit said. "I think I sort of have this self-belief now. When I came here, of course, I had nothing to lose. Every time I step on the court, I still think I can win the match, just do well."
En route to the biggest final of her career, Kontaveit has been broken just four times across four matches, facing just 11 break points along the way. Against Sakkari, Kontaveit pierced the Greek's tireless defensive wall with 32 winners, putting aside any concerns regarding her struggles to find the court against Muguruza, which was her first night match of the tournament.
"Before the match with Garbine, I hadn't even like properly practiced late in the evening with the lights," Kontaveit said. "I think it was just something that took me some time to get used to. Now definitely feeling much better about it."
The key for Kontaveit will be to whittle down the unforced error count that piled up against her in her prior match against Muguruza.
"She's beaten really good players. So have I," Kontaveit said. "I'm really looking forward to this new challenge.
"It's a new match. The previous matches, I think they don't really matter if you have this new opportunity."
 Garbiñe Muguruza vs.  Anett Kontaveit— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) November 17, 2021
For the 5th time in the last 6 editions of the WTA Finals, the champion will be seeded No.5 through No.8.
2015: No.5 Radwanska
2016: No.7 Cibulkova
2017: No.6 Wozniacki
2018: No.7 Svitolina
2019: No.1 Barty#AKRONWTAFinals
History is on Kontaveit's side. This is the seventh time since 2003 that players from the same group have faced off in the final. In four of the previous six instances, the loser of the group match got their revenge in the final. Most recently, 2016 champion Dominika Cibulkova did just that, defeating Angelique Kerber after losing to the German in group play.
As Kontaveit has stressed throughout the tournament, she never thought she would be able to qualify for the season-ending event. Now, as Kontaveit said herself, everything in Guadalajara is a bonus. That includes Wednesday's final, where she could tie No.1 Ashleigh Barty with a tour-leading five titles in 2021 and finish the year at No.6.
Will nerves play a role for the Estonian? Not at all. She hasn't felt nerves all week. Whether she's too tired to feel nerves, clicked into pure auto-pilot mode, or truly playing with house money, Kontaveit is having the time of her life.
"I think for me, I was the last one to qualify here. I don't really have anything to lose," Kontaveit said. "Everything that I'm doing here is a bonus for me.
"I'm really actually looking forward to the match. I hope I get to enjoy it as much as I can, take it all in, just realize what I've done in the last few months. This is the last big challenge that I have this year, so I'm really looking forward to it." -- Courtney Nguyen