It’s All Muguruza In Win Over Swiatek At Dubai

Garbiñe Muguruza (photo: DDF Tennis)

DUBAI/WASHINGTON, March 10 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Garbiñe Muguruza won her WTA-leading 15th match of the 2021 season in a duel of Top 20 players and past and present Grand Slam champions at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships Wednesday evening.

The World No. 16 and ninth seed Muguruza beat 19-year-old Polish teenager and reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek, 6-0, 6-4, in 70 minutes on Centre Court at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.

“I played great; I think I played a good match,” the 27-year-old Muguruza told Tennis TourTalk during her virtual press conference after her victory. “From the beginning, I took control of the score. The second set was tighter. At the end, I’m glad I could close it in two sets.”

During the 27-minute first set, Muguruza connected successfully on 78 percent of her first-serve points and won 28 of the 39 points contested. She saved both break points she faced while converting three of four break-point opportunities. Swiatek never won more than two points in a row and the first two times she was broken came on double faults while facing break points.

Then, in the second set, the Spaniard converted on her second break-point chance to go ahead a set and a break. She consolidated the break for a 3-1 advantage, but Swiatek got the break back in the next game to level the set at 3-all. However, Murguruza broke, again, in the ninth game for a 5-4 advantage and successfully closed out the match on her serve in the next game on her first match-point opportunity.

“It felt like every point was fast,” said Muguruza, who closed with a service ace. We didn’t have that many long rallies. In a blink, you either go 3-0 up or 3-0 down. I feel like the way we played on this surface, it was not the kind of match to have 20-ball rallies.”

The loss ended a six-match winning streak for Swiatek that began at last month’s Adelaide International en route to capturing that title, while Muguruza is into her fourth Dubai quarterfinal in seven appearances. When asked what she learned from her loss, Swiatek said: “I think I was stressed at the beginning. I couldn’t find anything in my game I could catch on to. I kept thinking about my mistakes. It happens. It’s hard to win every day.”

Lately, Muguruza has been winning – it seems – nearly every day. Asked what she learned about her 15th win in 19 matches this year, which advanced her to her third overall quarterfinal in her last four tournaments, Muguruza said: “You know, I’m happy with my performance. I think I played well from the beginning. I didn’t make that many unforced errors; I served well. I felt today better than yesterday. These last two matches gave me a feeling for the tournament. I felt better on the court today.”

Next, Muguruza will play World No. 8 Aryna Sabalenka, whom she beat 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, last week in Doha.

Sabalenka on fire, simply unstoppable

For the 61 minutes it took No. 3 seed Aryna Sabalenka to beat 24th-ranked Anett Kontaveit, the Belarusian was en fuego– simply unplayable. The World No. 8 fired eight aces, won 77 percent of her service points and saved the only break point she faced from the No. 15 seed Estonian en route to her 6-3, 6-2 victory to reach the quarterfinals.

Sabalenka backed up her win over France’s Alizé Cornet in the second round Tuesday with another show of incredible form against Kontaveit, with whom she is now 3-0 lifetime, and kept her opponent from reaching back-to-back quarterfinals in the Doha-Dubai double.

“I was trying to stay focused. As soon as you start thinking, ‘Oh, my serve is working well, or my return game is working well,’ everything goes in different directions,” Sabalenka said during her virtual press conference that followed her 11th victory of the season. “You just have to stay focused and keep serving well, keep working on the return game. I was just trying to stay focused on each point. I was more confident in the points and the rallies.

“When you serve is going well, your return game is going to be better. Everything was working together [today].”

Sabalenka, who unsuccessfully defended her 2021 Doha title after being eliminated by Garbiñe Muguruza in the quarterfinals at the Qatar Total Open last week, said: “I learned a lot after my Doha loss. I’m happy I can play my game here, even in the conditions of the balls flying. I’ve had good control of the ball.”

When Tennis TourTalk suggested that maybe Sabalenka’s string of luck this week could be attributed to her decision to wear a baseball-style cap instead of her customary bandana, she smiled at the thought. “I like playing with the cap and it feels comfortable, especially with the sun,” she said. “It’s useful here. Maybe, it’s giving me confidence? I don’t know.”

Pegula reaches third straight quarterfinal

Jessica Pegula served a 20-minute bagel set en route to her 6-0, 6-2 victory over No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova to move into the quarterfinal round. It was the Buffalo, N.Y.-native’s second straight win over the World No. 6 from the Czech Republic. Last week in Doha, Pegula knocked out Pliskova in the quarterfinals of the Qatar Total Open.

The 36th-ranked Pegula, who now holds three wins over Top 10-ranked players this season, has now reached the quarterfinals or better in three straight hardcourt tournaments, beginning with her quarterfinal run at the Australian Open last month, and is 10-2 in her last dozen matches. She’s 15-4 on the season, which includes coming through three rounds of qualifying last week in Doha just to make the main draw.

“Obviously, I have played well [against Karolina] the last two times I’ve played her,” Pegula said. “I didn’t give away a lot of free points. Serve and first-ball return, I think, is what I did really well. I didn’t make a lot of errors. That’s what I wanted to do. I stuck with my game plan pretty well.”

Tennis TourTalk asked Pegula how difficult it is to beat the same opponent twice in two consecutive tournaments. She said, “It’s definitely a weird feeling, I think, because I beat her in Doha – which was a big win – and I backed it up the next week. … It’s almost like you’re expected to do it again. It’s a new week, different conditions, different balls. It’s a totally different match. I tried to think of it like that.

“I thought, ‘I know what I need to do, I know my game plan. I’ll stick with that and see what happens. I’m glad I was able to back it up, but it’s definitely a weird feeling. I’m glad I was able to handle it well. …

“Sometimes, when you’re playing well things can slip and go in the other direction. So, really, I think focusing on my game plan is how I stay in the moment.”

Against Pliskova, who reached the 2015 Dubai final, Pegula’s serve was in danger only once. She won 67 percent of her second-serve points and faced just two break points the entire match. Pegula broke Pliskova’s serve six times during the 53-minute match that began the day on Centre Court at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium complex.

“She has a lot of confidence out there,” Pliskova told Tennis TourTalk when asked what makes Pegula such a great competitor. “Anytime there’s a close game or a close score, she’s able to play some great points. She’s done that twice in a row. She’s played some great tennis.”

Pliskova admitted her rhythm wasn’t what she wanted it to be, but she gave due credit to Pegula. “My tennis was not where I wanted it to be, but I think [Jessica] had a lot to do with it,” Pliskova told Tennis TourTalk.

Pliskova double-faulted seven times and won just 38 percent of her service points and 29 percent of her return points coupled with her difficulty in saving break points. After winning just 10 points in the opening set, she was outpointed by Pegula for the entire match 57-29.

“There were not many things which I did right today, but that’s how it is sometimes,” said Pliskova, who will focus her attention toward regrouping in Miami.

Before Pegula can think about returning home to Buffalo as well as playing the Miami Open, next, she will face No. 10 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, a 6-4, 6-2 winner over No. 47 Caroline Garcia of France. It was the second time Mertens has beaten Garcia this year following her win back in January at the Gippsland Trophy in Melbourne, which broke a three-match losing streak to the Frenchwoman.

Krejcikova, Potapova reach first WTA 1000 quarterfinal

The Czech Republic’s Barbora Krejcikova has long been established as one of the best doubles players in the world, rising to World No. 1 alongside her longtime playing partner, Katerina Siniakova. However, it’s long been the 63rd-ranked Krejcikova’s desire to not be labeled just as a doubles specialist.

On Wednesday, the 25-year-old Krejcikova from Brno backed up her earlier wins over No. 16 seed Maria Sakkari and 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko with her third consecutive straight-set victory. She defeated No. 41 Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, 6-3, 6-2, by winning 77 percent of her first-serve points and 52 percent of her return points. Krejcikova broke Kuznetsova’s serve four times in six tries during their one hour and 14-minute match and outpointed her opponent 59-42.

Also, 19-year-old Anastasia Potapova, who last July underwent arthroscopic surgery on her right ankle , reached the quarterfinals after her second straight defeat of a seeded opponent. A day after eliminating No. 11 seed Madison Keys in straight sets, the Russian wild card rallied to beat World No. 12 Belinda Bencic, the lone remaining seed in the top half of the draw, 6-1, 2-6, 7-5.

The 2016 Wimbledon junior champion Potapova set up her victory with her seventh ace, then won with a beautiful backhand winner that capped a 13-shot rally at the conclusion of the two hour and 18-minute contest. Immediately, Potapova bent over at the waist and covered her face with her left hand and began to cry tears of joy. Then, she walked confidently to the net and received a congratulatory hug from the No. 6 seed Bencic. The victory improved Potapova’s win-loss record for this season to 7-5, all on outdoor hard courts.

Krejcikova and Potapova will oppose each other in the first quarterfinal on Thursday, beginning at 2 p.m. (11 a.m. Central European).

Teichmann, Gauff to meet for third time in 2021

A pair of unseeded players, Jil Teichmann of Switzerland and wild card Coco Gauff of the United States, will meet for the third time this year in Thursday’s final quarterfinal match. The No. 54 Teichmann eliminated 31st-ranked Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, 6-3, 6-3, while Gauff advanced with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over No. 125 Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic.

Teichmann has been solid on hard courts this year and her victory against Jabeur was her eighth in her past 10 on hard courts. In her ninth victory of 2021, she converted three of eight break points and saved all six of the break points she faced from the Tunisian. In her last 10 matches against left-handed opposition, Jabeur dropped is 3-7.

Meanwhile, the 40th-ranked Gauff won the final six games of the 66-minute third-round match to secure her best showing at a WTA 1000 event. Gauff, who turns 17 in three days, won 77 percent of her first-serve points and converted four break points.

Teichmann and Gauff have already met twice this season, both won by Gauff. The young American beat Teichmann 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (5) in the first round of the Gippsland Trophy in Melbourne and followed it with a 6-3, 6-2 win in the first round of the Australian Open.

Wednesday’s Dubai DDFT results 

Thursday’s Dubai DDFT order of play

What they’re saying

Aryna Sabalenka, the highest-remaining seeded player at No. 3, following the upset losses to No. 1 seed Elina Svitolina and No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova, plus the retirement of No. 4 seed Petra Kvitova, was asked if she thinks it gives her a better chance at winning the title or does she worry “Am I going to be the next victim?” She said:

“I’m not really following how [the others] are playing, but of course, I saw Pliskova lost today, Kvitova retired yesterday. I mean, it doesn’t really matter. Everyone here is playing well and it doesn’t really matter – actually you can see that the seeded players are losing. Everyone can beat everyone here. It doesn’t matter for me. I’m trying to focus on each match and trying to win my matches instead of focusing on the seeded players.”

Jessica Pegula told Tennis TourTalk she’s not surprised by the number of seeds who have been eliminated before the quarterfinal round. She suggested it speaks to the depth of women’s tennis. “The depth of women’s tennis [now] is so tough,” she said. “There are no easy matches. It’s so day-to-day, week-to-week [as to] who’s playing well and who’s not. So much of it to me is on the matchups. Some people play better against certain people but don’t play better against someone else.

“To me, that’s a really big thing people don’t realize the matchups day to day, especially, I think sometimes it’s tough with seeds. When they have a bye and play somebody who has played in the conditions and already has a match under their belts or a qualifier who has multiple matches under their belt. It’s totally different. So, I think that, actually, has been a big factor as seeds have gone out in Dubai. I’m not too surprised. It happens. It’s a long season and nobody’s going to win every match.”