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Krejcikova faces Kontaveit, Muguruza and Pliskova renew rivalry

The primary day of the 2021 Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara opens with contrasting matchups as Group Teotihuacán will get below means. There can be a first-time encounter between two of the season’s latest faces on the prime of the sport and the most recent version of essentially the most established rivalry of the group levels.

Named after the traditional Mesoamerican metropolis, now a UNESCO World Heritage Web site, close to Mexico Metropolis, Teotihuacán has been translated as “a spot the place gods are born” – and the gamers within the group actually have huge expertise of profitable.

Group Teotihuacán options two Grand Slam winners – Barbora Krejcikova, the one reigning main champion within the area, and former World No.1 Garbiñe Muguruza, together with one other former No.1 Karolina Pliskova. Rounding it out is essentially the most in-form participant on the WTA Finals, Anett Kontaveit, who has soared from No.30 to No.8 in lower than two months.

Navratilova previews Day 1 on the WTA Finals

[2] Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) vs. [8] Anett Kontaveit (EST)

Krejcikova has been one of many revelations of the 2021 season. Not just for her shock Roland Garros title run, which concerned saving match level in opposition to Maria Sakkari within the event’s longest-ever semifinal, however for the best way during which she has taken to her newfound standing.

The Czech backed up her Parisian breakthrough with second-week showings at each Wimbledon (fourth spherical) and the US Open (quarterfinals), in addition to a title on dwelling soil in Prague. In eight of her previous 9 tournaments since Might, she has both lifted the trophy herself or misplaced to the eventual champion. 

And it is not simply the outcomes on paper which have impressed. Earlier than this 12 months, Krejcikova’s pure expertise would have been evident to anybody who watched in both singles or doubles. The query was precisely how under-ranked she was within the former after focusing her schedule across the latter.

Over the course of 2021, it is develop into clear Krejcikova has a singular model. Her means to redirect the ball across the court docket with pinpoint accuracy is unparalleled, and the best way during which she will effortlessly place winners with none obvious injection of depth is a marvel. Pair that with super talent at internet, and it is a formidable all-round bundle.

Her opponent, Kontaveit, tends to cope with all-round opponents by hitting by them. Over the course of a fourth-quarter surge, she hasn’t had a lot bother in doing that. The 25-year-old has received 26 of her previous 28 matches, solely shedding to Iga Swiatek on the US Open and Ons Jabeur at Indian Wells. She’s received trophies in Cleveland, Ostrava, Moscow and Cluj-Napoca. Not unhealthy for a participant who had received solely one in all her eight WTA finals earlier than this August.

The primary Estonian to qualify for the WTA Finals, Kontaveit is eager to emphasize she is not simply comfortable to be right here.

“I do not really feel like I am simply actually relaxed and simply having fun with the place,” she informed the press. “Genuinely I assumed after profitable Moscow I would really feel some kind of aid. I assumed after profitable Transylvania, I might really feel aid, simply relaxed. Nevertheless it nonetheless hasn’t occurred. I really feel like I am nonetheless within the zone of … the method, the progress that I am making an attempt to do. I additionally really feel like all of my focus is on the matches.”

Despite the fact that Krejcikova and Kontaveit are generational friends, each born in 1995, they’ve by no means confronted one another, even in juniors. With no prior document to analyse, their respective vitality ranges might be pivotal.

Kontaveit has performed the heaviest autumn schedule of any participant within the area, stacking on tournaments in her profitable last-minute race to qualify. With that mentioned, over the course of her unbeaten fortnight in Moscow and Cluj-Napoca, she was taken to a few units solely as soon as, by Ekaterina Alexandrova within the Moscow last, and she or he feels grooved from it.

“I feel we’ll see once we begin enjoying matches if it is labored in my favour or not,” Kontaveit mentioned. “I do not suppose it is a unhealthy factor. I prefer it. I imply, I feel it is good. I do not know the way different gamers would really feel about it. For me, I feel it is a good place to be in.”

Krejcikova, in the meantime, is the one participant in Guadalajara who competed within the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in Prague final week. There, she misplaced two robust matches to Angelique Kerber and Belinda Bencic. In each matches, Krejcikova confirmed indicators of fatigue and minor harm, and she or he wanted to take a seat out the doubles rubbers whereas her normal companion Katerina Siniakova teamed up with Lucie Hradecka. The Czech Republic didn’t progress past the round-robin stage.

Right here, although, Krejcikova is speaking recreation. 

“As of now as I am right here, I really feel wholesome, I really feel good,” she informed press. “My physique is working properly. I hope it will keep like that.”

Head-to-head: 0-0 

[3] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) vs. [6] Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP)

Pliskova and Muguruza have performed 10 occasions over the previous eight years, essentially the most of any of the round-robin matchups in Guadalajara. There aren’t some ways during which that sequence appears to be like good for Muguruza.

Pliskova leads 8-2 total, together with 8-1 on laborious courts. She has additionally received each of their earlier WTA Finals encounters. Within the 2016 spherical robin, she got here from 0-4 down within the third set and saved a match level to win 6-2, 6-7(4), 7-5. A 12 months later, she wanted solely 62 minutes to triumph 6-2, 6-2.

Muguruza’s solely victories got here within the first spherical of Roland Garros in 2013, when each gamers had been nonetheless ranked outdoors the High 70, and within the 2017 Cincinnati semifinals, simply after the Spaniard had received her second Grand Slam trophy at Wimbledon. Since that match, Pliskova has not misplaced a set to Muguruza.

Why Pliskova has dominated, their head-to-head is not instantly explicable. On paper, two of the most important hitters within the recreation needs to be extra evenly matched. Nevertheless it’s plain that previous historical past leans the Czech’s means.

Might there be extra components to trigger a wrinkle this time? Two might be the placement and the altitude. Muguruza’s pleasure at competing in a WTA Finals hosted in Latin America has been palpable this week.

“It is a once-in-a-lifetime alternative,” she informed the press. “That had a giant impact on me. I really feel it is nice as a result of tennis in Latin America, girls’s tennis shouldn’t be a precedence. I really feel like now individuals can see it. It is one thing that appeared unattainable, and now it is doable. It is an amazing, nice feeling to be in Mexico and having the Mexican crowd tomorrow on court docket.”

Muguruza, a two-time Monterrey champion in 2018 and 2019, has thrived in Mexico earlier than, and may moderately anticipate important crowd assist. However even Monterrey did not have the altitude of Guadalajara, which is 5,138 toes above sea stage. Each Muguruza and Pliskova mentioned they’ve struggled to get used to the circumstances.

“I play flat, the ball flies,” Pliskova mentioned. “I really feel like I am lacking rather a lot. …  The balls are bouncing fairly excessive. That is been one thing what I used to be struggling a bit this week. … I by no means compete actually in these circumstances, so I am unable to actually say how it will be. I simply know the way the practices went. We is not going to talk about that.”

With seven earlier WTA Finals appearances between them, Pliskova and Muguruza stand out as essentially the most skilled contributors in 2021 – the remaining six gamers are all making their event debuts. However Pliskova, who has certified yearly since 2016, and Muguruza, returning for the primary time since a trio of appearances in 2015-17, nonetheless have a lot to show.

Neither has even made the ultimate of the WTA Finals earlier than. Muguruza’s lone semifinal exhibiting got here in 2015, whereas Pliskova has fallen prior to now 4. That is Pliskova’s final shot at preserving her streak of profitable finally one title yearly since 2013. Her resurgence this season after a gradual begin was centred round three runner-up showings, in Rome, Wimbledon and Montreal.

Head-to-head: Pliskova leads 8-2, together with 8-1 on laborious courts and 2-0 on the WTA Finals.

AKRON WTA FINALS GUADALAJARA: DAY 1 ORDER OF PLAY

Beginning at 2pm
[2] Barbora KREJCIKOVA (CZE) vs [8] Anett KONTAVEIT (EST)
[2] Shuko AOYAMA (JPN) / Ena SHIBAHARA (JPN) vs [7] Darija JURAK (CRO) / Andreja KLEPAC (SLO)
Not earlier than 7.30pm
[3] Karolina PLISKOVA (CZE) vs [6] Garbiñe MUGURUZA (ESP)
[4] Nicole MELICHAR-MARTINEZ (USA) / Demi SCHUURS (NED) vs [5] Samantha STOSUR (AUS) / ZHANG Shuai (CHN) 

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