The Insider Wrap is a recap of everything you need to know from the week that was. This week, WTA Insider looks back at the AKRON WTA Finals Guadalajara, where Garbiñe Muguruza enjoyed a fairytale week en route to her 10th career title.
Performance of the Week: Garbiñe Muguruza
Muguruza knew what she was getting into when she targeted the WTA Finals as a goal. The 28-year-old saw Guadalajara as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a chance to not only win the biggest hardcourt title of her career but to do so at the first WTA Finals hosted in Latin America. For the Venezuela-born Spaniard, motivation was never an issue.
"Every time I came to Mexico, not necessarily where I am right now as Garbiñe, when I was 'nobody Garbiñe,' I also felt the support. To qualify, the whole year with my team, it's in Mexico, we have to make it, c'mon. It was my biggest motivation."
Even before she captured her first WTA Finals title, where she Anett Kontaveit 6-3, 7-5, Muguruza was the story of the tournament. From her rousing opening-night effort that ended in a heart-breaking loss in a third-set tiebreaker against Karolina Pliskova, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(6), to her mounting momentum with wins over Barbora Krejcikova, Paula Badosa and pair of wins over Kontaveit, Muguruza marched confidently toward her dream finish to an otherwise outstanding season.
This season, the two-time major champion won three titles in a single season for the first time in her career. She re-entered the Top 10 for the first time since 2018 and finished the year at No.3, her best year-end finish since 2017. In Guadalajara, Muguruza played with a joy and openness that she hopes to take with her into 2022.
"It's funny, the other day I was speaking with my manager, Oliver," Muguurza said. "He was like, 'You know what, for the first time, Garbiñe, you're really using the crowd, really getting that energy and using it on the court. You should do that more often.'
"I think a big lesson to me is to hear the people, the crowd, whether they scream vamos or c'mon. I'm so concentrated, I just block everything. I should get the energy from the environment."
Surprise of the Week: The impact of the Guadalajara crowd
Anyone who has paid attention to the tour's stops in Mexico, whether Monterrey or Guadalajara or Acapulco in years past, shouldn't have been surprised that the fans showed up in boisterous droves. The surprise was the influential role they played in matches.
Aryna Sabalenka's 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 win over Iga Swiatek in the second round of group play turned around the minute Sabalenka got the crowd involved. Whether boosting the Spanish-speaking players to victory or living on the edge of their seats during otherwise non-partisan duels, the Guadalajara crowd was the closest thing to a consistent "Sixth Man" as women's tennis has seen at a tour stop. To steal another NBA reference: They're the real MVP.
Anett Kontaveit: There's an argument to be made that that Muguruza's most impressive accomplishment en route to her WTA Finals title was beating Anett Kontaveit not just once, but twice. The conventional wisdom going into the tournament was Kontaveit had to be tired. Who wouldn't be, after winning 10 consecutive matches to finish the season and playing non-stop across two continents for the past three months of the season?
But Kontaveit continued the WTA Finals tradition of seeing the last-minute qualifiers ride their momentum and form to success at the season-ending championships. She finished the year tied for the most wins on tour (48) and the tour lead in both hardcourt wins (39) and hardcourt titles (four). After being ranked No.30 in mid-August, the 25-year-old finished the year as the highest-ranked Estonian in tennis history, sitting at No.7.
Kontaveit: "I was the last one to qualify. I don't really have anything to lose. Everything that I'm doing here is a bonus for me. I'm really looking forward for 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 months." pic.twitter.com/gDZ7qAQl5k— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) November 17, 2021
Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova: The top-seeded Czechs ran the table in Guadalajara, going undefeated to win their first WTA Finals title. The win capped off an incredible doubles season for the pair, with wins at Roland Garros, Madrid and Olympic gold, and boosted Siniakova to year-end No.1 for the second time in her career.
But it was Krejcikova's post-win speech that left an indelible mark. With Martina Navratilova in tears behind her, Krejcikova saluted the 32nd anniversary of the Czech Republic's Velvet Revolution, paying tribute to the brave generation that came before her who paved the way for the life of freedom the current generation enjoyed.
"Today is a really special day for the Czech Republic and also our Slovak friends. We call this day the Velvet Revolution," Krejcikova said. "On November 17, 1989, Czechs and Slovaks had been one nation. We had very brave Czechoslovakian studends and citizens and they went out side to the streets and they had been demonstrating against the non-democratic regime we had then. Thanks to them and their sacrifice, my generation can live in a beautiful country back home and we can live without any restrictions and with freedom."
Barbora Krejcikova’s remarks during the trophy ceremony, paying tribute to the Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic on this day 32 years ago. #AKRONWTAFINALS pic.twitter.com/sKGfQ7PN1D— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) November 18, 2021
Paula Badosa: It was remarkable how comfortable Paula Badosa looked in her WTA Finals debut. The Indian Wells champion capped off her season with straight-set wins against Sabalenka and Sakkari, looking just as dangerous as she looked in the California desert. She finished with losses to Swiatek and Muguruza in the semifinal, but the 24-year-old proved over the past six weeks of the season that she's primed to surge even higher in 2022.
Maria Sakkari: Maria Sakkari's loss in the semifinals to Kontaveit will leave a lingering bad taste in her mouth. Sakkari led by a break in the decider and had a bushel of game points in the penultimate game only to be broken. But there is much to be proud about her WTA Finals debut. The No.4 seed scored wins over Swiatek and Krejcikova and finished the season at No.6.
Karolina Pliskova: The former No.1 went 2-1 in group play, defeating eventual champion Muguruza and Krejcikova, but found herself on the outside looking in after Muguruza defeated Kontaveit to the Czech's fate. It was an unfortunate result for Karolina Pliskova's otherwise successful tournament - she was the only woman to defeat Muguruza all week - but her two wins were a boost to her season finish. Pliskova finished the year at No.4.
"I'm super happy about the season. She really, like, spoke out loudly that she really belongs here.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) November 17, 2021
"It's not by mistake that she won a Grand Slam.”@Sierzputowsky on Swiatek’s strides forward and what’s to come for the 20-year-old. https://t.co/DCmahhGQYi#AKRONWTAFINALS pic.twitter.com/rsAmWCaV73
Stats of the Week
15: Different countries represented among the 24 women who have won the WTA Finals.
1: Spanish woman to win the WTA Finals singles trophy: Garbiñe Muguruza.
39: Hardcourt wins posted by Anett Kontaveit in 2021, the most on tour.
4: Championship matches Hsieh Su-Wei has played at the WTA Finals. She has progressed to the championship match in all four appearances, finishing as runner-up with Peng Shuai (2013, 2014), Barbora Strycova (2019) and Elise Mertens (2021).
2: Times Katerina Siniakova has finished a season atop the doubles ranking. She first accomplished the feat in 2018 alongside Barbora Krejcikova.
Badosa on Muguruza: "She was the only [Spanish] player that was quite super aggressive, good serve, tall, 182. I really saw, like, a mirror in her.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) November 16, 2021
"When I was little, my idol was Sharapova, but in Spain she was the one I was following. She was the example.”#AKRONWTAFinals
Quote of the Week
Muguruza: "When Steve said that Guadalajara was an option, I was like, 'Oh, my God, are you sure?' You mean Guadalajara, Mexico, right, not other Guadalajara [smiling]? I was so nervous to make it happen. Now I want it even more.
"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. I feel like it's kind of something that now it's possible that seemed impossible, and now it's possible."