Muguruza Becomes First Spaniard To Win WTA Finals Title

Garbine Muguruza (photo: Brigitte Urban)

GUADALAJARA/WASHINGTON, November 18, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara, which took place in the nearly-mile-high western Mexican city known for its joyful mariachi music, crowned a first-time champion in World No. 5 Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain Wednesday night. There was plenty of festive celebrating after it ended.

The Centro Panamericano de Tenis provided a lively atmosphere all week in Guadalajara, Mexico’s seventh-largest city, which stood in on eight weeks’ notice – and crushed it – for usual year-end host Shenzhen, China. Crowds were supportive for both favorite daughter, the Spaniard Muguruza, as well as for World No. 8 Anett Kontaveit, who had her own rooting section imported from her home country of Estonia. On Wednesday, there were plenty of fans waving Spanish and Estonian flags throughout the one-hour and 38-minute title match, which Muguruza won over Kontaveit, 6-3, 7-5.

The two-time Grand Slam champion and No. 6 seed came from a break down and won the last four games of the match. Muguruza converted five of 11 break points and her 16 winners overcame her 25 unforced errors as she won her the biggest title of her career since Wimbledon in 2017. It was her 10th title overall and her 14th career victory in Mexico. Meanwhile, eighth seed Kontaveit finished with 15 winners but committed 39 unforced errors, including her last on match point, in which she netted a third-shot return on the final point of the championship match and was broken at love.

Muguruza, 28, was overcome with emotion and fell to the ground, crying tears of joy. The victory was her 42nd of the season – most for her since 2017 – while the loss for the 25-year-old Kontaveit was just her fifth since the US Open. She won a total of 48 matches – tied with Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur – including 29 of her last 34. Muguruza is the first Spaniard to win the WTA year-end title and just the second to compete for it after Arantxa Sanchez Vicario played Steffi Graf and lost in 1993.

During the trophy ceremony, Muguruza turned to Kontaveit and was almost apologetic when she said, “Sorry that we had to play twice.”

The former World No. 1 Muguruza ended Kontaveit’s 12-match winning streak earlier in the week in round-robin play. The victory was her fourth in six career head-to-head meetings. Muguruza is projected to reach World No. 3 when the new WTA rankings are released while Kontaveit is expected to move up to World No. 7.

Muguruza also shared a story from the US Open, in which she was told by one of her team that the year-end WTA Finals might be moved from China to Guadalajara.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I have to make it!’ And look now, we’re here. … It was a dream come true to play here.”

Soon, Muguruza would be lifting the Billie Jean King Trophy, presented to her by the Hall of Fame great herself, while her coach Conchita Martinez, another Hall of Famer, was among the first Muguruza hugged after winning the title.

How Muguruza and Kontaveit arrived in the title match

Looking back, in Anett Kontaveit’s tournament debut, the No. 8 seed from Estonia advanced to the final with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 against friend and longtime rival Maria Sakkari of Greece on Tuesday night. The 25-year-old Kontaveit improved to 7-0 in semifinals this year and it put her in a position to win a third consecutive title and fifth overall, which would tie World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty of Australia for most this season in the WTA. Her early successes came in Cleveland, Ostrava, Moscow and Cluj-Napoca. Unfortunately, Kontaveit fell a little short of another title victory against Muguruza.

After beating Sakkari, Kontaveit said: “I still can’t quite believe that I’m even here and I’m playing against the best players at such a prestigious tournament. I’m just so proud of myself that I managed to do this and so happy to be competing at this level an just trying to take it all in.”

Meanwhile, Garbiñe Muguruza became the first player from Spain to reach the WTA Finals title match in 28 years after beating fellow Spaniard Paula Badosa, 6-3, 6-3, in their first meeting. It continued Muguruza’s excellence in Mexico and the victory also advanced her to her fifth WTA final of the season. In addition to her year-end title in Guadalajara, Muguruza also won titles in Dubai and Chicago, all on hard courts.

Muguruza’s victory over Badosa was her sixth Top 10 win of the season and 41st overall in her career. She would increase those numbers by one each with her title win against Kontaveit.

“I think it’s the best match that I played so far here in Guadalajara,” Muguruza said of her win over Badosa. “It was a tough match facing another Spaniard in the semifinals. We’ve never faced each other before, so it was tricky.

“But I’m very happy that I got the win. Very proud of Paula. She started the year far [down] in the rankings, and now she’s a Top 10 player. Very impressive. She deserves a very well rest. Very happy for her year.”

Krejcikova and Siniakova win WTA Finals doubles championship

As the top-seeded Czech duo Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova walked out to face No. 3 seeds Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan and Elise Mertens of Belgium, there was more than just the Akron WTA Finals Martina Navratilova Trophy on the line.

The winner would decide the year-end No. 1 race between current No. 1 Hsieh and No. 2 Siniakova. All four competitors have held the No. 1 doubles ranking during their careers.

After an hour and 18 minutes of play that was both dramatic and entertaining, Krejcikova and Siniakova completed an undefeated week in Guadalajara and capped their 2021 season by winning their first WTA Finals title with a 6-3, 6-4 triumph. It was the Czech’s fifth crown of the season.

Krejcikova and Siniakova, the reigning Roland Garros champions and Tokyo Olympics gold medalists, were in their third WTA Finals and second as the top seeds. Standing across the net from them were the reigning Wimbledon champions, Hsieh and Mertens. Earlier, the two teams faced off in group play for the first time and the Czechs dropped only four games in a 6-3, 6-1 victory.

This time, they won 67 percent of their service points and 47 percent of their return points, outpointing Hsieh and Mertens 65-50. They saved five of six break points and converted three of 10. A drop volley winner by Siniakova wrapped up the title on their second championship point.

During the trophy ceremony, Krejcikova and Siniakova received their champions trophy from its namesake, Hall of Fame great Martina Navratilova, who was born in Czechoslovakia before emigrating to the United States. Then, without prompting, Krejcikova paid tribute to the Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic, which took place on this day 32 years ago.

“Today is a really special day for the Czech Republic and also our Slovak friends,” Krejcikova said, as Navratilova stood behind her looking on. “We call this day the Velvet Revolution. On November 17, 1989, Czechs and Slovaks had been one nation. We had very brave Czechoslovakian students and citizens and they went outside to the streets and they had been demonstrating against the non-democratic regime we had then. Thanksto them and their sacrifice, my generation can live in a beautiful country back home and we can live without any restrictions and with freedom.

“So, everybody understands what was happening back then, we have here Martina Navratilova, who was forced to emigrate from Czechoslovakia because of the regime there. I’m really happy that regime is not there anymore and we can live in freedom.

“So, I just want to say that I want to thank everybody back home and I really appreciate what they did, how brave they were. They gave us the opportunity to live in freedom and I’m really proud to be from Czech Republic.”

By the numbers

• This was the seventh time in WTA Finals history that round-robin foes have rematched in the singles final.

• This year was the third time since the eight-player, round-robin format was introduced in 2003 that the No. 8 seed reached the championship match at the WTA Finals. On two previous occasions, Vera Zvonareva and Elina Svitolina finished runners-up in 2008 and 2019, respectively.

“Quotable …”

“It’s different. It’s intense. You play every two days. It’s like a final of a big tournament because you’d playing against the top eight players. You have to be ready for it. It’s quite intense mentally, as well.”

Paula Badosa of Spain, World No. 10, on describing what it was like to participate in her first WTA Finals.