Qualifier Golubic Ends Li’s Monterrey Run

Viktorija Golubic (photo: Abierto GNP Seguros)

MONTERREY/WASHINGTON, March 21, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

It’s always a great thing when you’re one of the last two players standing at the end of a tournament. After a week of playing in Mexico’s high altitude, Swiss qualifier Viktorija Golubic and Candian teenager Leylah Fernandez have mastered the conditions best. As winter has transitioned into spring in the northern hemisphere, these two are the last ones standing and they’ll face off Sunday in the title match of the WTA 250-series Abierto GNP Seguros at Club Sonoma in Monterrey.

On Saturday, Golubic broke No. 8 seed Ann Li of the United States in her second service game of the match and played from the advantage of being ahead throughout much of their one hour and 15-minute match on Estadio GNP Seguros. Golubic won 6-2, 6-4 and handed Li, who had not dropped a set through three earlier rounds, just her second loss of the year in 11 matches. Meanwhile, it was Golubic’s 20th win in her last 22 matches covering both WTA and ITF competitions.

Then, the 18-year-old Fernandez pulled out a 7-5, 7-5 two-hour-plus victory over No. 7 seed Sara Sorribes Tormo, who won her first WTA tour-level title last weekend in Guadalajara and was the last seeded player remaining in Monterrey. Fernandez’s well-achieved victory ended Sorribes Tormo’s eight-match unbeaten streak (seven wins plus a walkover) and it earned her a second career WTA finals appearance, both in Mexico.

The No. 72 Li, who was making her tournament debut this week in Monterrey in only her seventh WTA main draw appearance of her career – and first as a seeded player – lost her first set of the tournament to the 102nd-ranked Golubic, 6-3, in 34 minutes. The King of Prussia, Pa., native was never able to get very comfortable playing from behind – she was broken three times – and Golubic’s attacking style helped contribute to the young American committing 18 unforced errors in the first set alone.

Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Golubic, who came through two rounds of qualifying and was playing in her sixth match of the week, looked comfortable against Li as she attempted to reach back-to-back finals for the first time since 2016. Despite being broken in her second service game of the match, Golubic broke right back and only trailed once during the remainder of the match (at 3-2 in the second set). After leveling matters at 3-all, Golubic broke for a 4-3 advantage and served out the victory, winning on her second match-point.

“I was trying to be focused on my serve and to dominate,” Golubic said during her virtual press conference. “I was trying to win my serve and to really get on her serve. It worked out really well. It helped to have a lead in the first set.”

Golubic saved three of five break points and broke Li five times in seven opportunities. She outpointed her opponent 63-55.

Asked what she’s learned about herself after reaching back-to-back finals (Lyon two weeks ago and Monterrey), Golubic said, “This is really awesome. To experience it and to stay fit mentally and physically is not an easy thing. I learned a lot about my game. I think I’m playing pretty solidly and peaking at the right moment. I think I have improved over two tournaments.”

As for Fernandez, she was put through a grinder of a match by Sorribes Tormo but managed to endure the test while also figuring out how to get a good read on the Spaniard’s serve. After Fernandez put away the first set 7-5 by securing a forehand volley winner at the net, she and Sorribes Tormo consecutively broke one another during a four-game stretch that negated any advantage each might have enjoyed. However, after holding at 15 for a 6-5 lead, the soft-spoken Canadian lefty won on her first match-point opportunity, finishing a 10-shot rally with a nifty, well-placed backhand volley winner coming in toward the net.

By the end of their 148-point hard-court battle, Fernandez won by showing wonderful focus and determination. She admitted during her virtual press conference that she felt hungry because she had not had time to eat after the match. However, Fernandez expressed happiness from achieving her seventh victory of the season and fourth this week in Mexico.

When Tennis TourTalk asked Fernandez what got her through her semifinal win against Sorribes Tormo, she said: “I just tried to fight through every point. She’s a tough player to play against. She came in with a lot of confidence and momentum. Today, the game plan was to be a little bit more offensive, coming into the net. I think I executed it that pretty well and I’m glad the win was on my side.”

Dolehide/Muhammad win doubles title

Americans Caroline Dolehide and Asia Muhammad lifted their first WTA doubles title together – and it was Dolehide’s first tour-level title of any kind – after defeating Heather Watson of Great Britain and Zheng Saisai from China, 6-2, 6-3, in one hour and six minutes. The second-seeded Dolehide and Muhammad outpointed Watson and Zheng 54-38 and took advantage of four breaks of serve against their opponents while saving seven of eight break points they faced.

Both Dolehide (ranked 43rd) and Muhammad (No. 40) are Top 50-ranked doubles players. While Dolehide, 22, has tried her luck playing tour-level singles, where she’s ranked No. 155, and the 29-year-old Muhammad is ranked No. 208, it’s on the doubles court where they have enjoyed the most success.

Tennis TourTalk interviewed the Monterrey doubles champions virtually following their trophy ceremony.

Although Dolehide and Muhammad have played with a variety of doubles partners – Dolehide has recently teamed with Shelby Rogers and Caty McNally and Muhammad with Jessica Pegula and last year with Taylor Townsend – this was the first time they had teamed together in a tour-level event. Asked how they formed their partnership for this week’s event in Monterrey, Muhammad said they first approached each other in Australia. “We were supposed to play together in Guadalajara (last week) but I messed up my entry. So, we only played here but it worked out for us,” she said.

When Tennis TourTalk asked the newly-crowned champions what makes a good doubles player and a good team, like a good team they took turns contributing their thoughts:

“I think one main thing for me is I feel I am able to play with a lot of different partners. I think that is a huge thing,” Muhammad said. “I also feel it’s important to get along with the person you’re playing with and to feel comfortable. I’ve known Caroline forever and her sisters – I feel very comfortable with her. I think what helps us is both of us have big games – sometimes too big – we need to pull back a little. It helps we can serve and return. It helps us to navigate through these matches.”

Dolehide added: “I’d agree and I think also a very important thing is with a big server like me and Asia is a big server, too, is you really have to make those first balls count, be aggressive and stick to our game plan. Doing that helps a lot.”

Both Dolehide and Muhammad delevoped a good friendship while playing World Team Tennis last summer in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. “Honestly, even though we were on different teams we practiced together at the beginning and it really helped my doubles game,” Dolehide said. “Before that, I didn’t really spend a lot of time on doubles, but when I went there, I learned a few different things from Billie Jean King and my coach for the Freedoms (Craig Kardon) and I played a lot with Taylor Townsend and learned a lot on that trip and had so much fun. I’m sure Asia had a ton of fun, too. It was a good experience.”

Asked if they will try to continue playing in the future, now that they’ve won a title, Muhammad said, “For sure, I would love to keep playing with Caroline, we’re undefeated.” Dolehide chimed eagerly, “I’m sure we’ll try. We might as well keep going, right?”