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 underneath method: a first-time encounter between two of the season’s latest faces on the high of the sport, and the newest version of probably the most established rivalry of the group phases.

Named after the traditional Mesoamerican metropolis, now a UNESCO World Heritage Website, 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 glory within the sport.

Group Teotihuacán options two Grand Slam winners – Barbora Krejcikova, the one reigning main champion within the discipline, and Garbiñe Muguruza – in addition to two former World No.1s, Muguruza and Karolina Pliskova. Rounding it out is probably the most in-form participant on the WTA Finals, Anett Kontaveit, who has soared from World No.30 to World 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 towards Maria Sakkari within the match’s longest ever semifinal, however for the best way by 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 residence soil in Prague. In eight of her final 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. Previous to this yr, Krejcikova’s pure expertise would have been evident to anybody who watched in both singles or doubles – the query was precisely how underranked she was within the former after focusing her schedule across the latter.

Over the course of 2021, it is turn into clear that Krejcikova has a novel type that belongs on the high of the sport. Her means to redirect the ball across the courtroom with pinpoint accuracy is unparalleled, and the best way by which she will be able to effortlessly place winners with none obvious injection of depth is a marvel. Pair that with super ability at web, and it is a formidable all-round package deal.

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

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

“I do not really feel like I am simply actually relaxed and simply having fun with the place,” she instructed press. “Genuinely I assumed after profitable Moscow I might really feel some type of reduction. I assumed after profitable Transylvania, I’d really feel reduction, simply relaxed. But it surely 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.”

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

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

“I feel we’ll see after we begin enjoying matches if it is labored in my favour or not,” Kontaveit stated. “I do not assume it is a dangerous factor. I prefer it. I imply, I feel it is good. I do not understand how 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 to have 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, she confirmed indicators of fatigue and minor harm, and she or he wanted to take a seat out the doubles rubbers whereas her common associate Katerina Siniakova teamed up with Lucie Hradecka. The Czech Republic did not progress past the round-robin stage.

Right here, although, Krejcikova is speaking a very good sport. 

“As of now as I am right here, I really feel wholesome, I really feel good,” she instructed press. “My physique is working properly. I hope it may 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, probably the most of any of the round-robin matchups in Guadalajara. There aren’t some ways by which that sequence seems good for Muguruza.

Pliskova leads 8-2 total, together with 8-1 on onerous 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 yr later, she wanted solely 62 minutes to triumph 6-2, 6-2.

Muguruza’s solely victories within the sequence got here of their first assembly, within the first spherical of Roland Garros 2013, when each gamers have 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 that yr. 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 sport needs to be extra evenly matched. But it surely’s simple that previous historical past leans the Czech’s method.

May there be further elements 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 instructed press. “That had a giant impact on me. I really feel it is nice as a result of tennis in Latin America, ladies’s tennis shouldn’t be a precedence. I really feel like now folks can see it. It is one thing that appeared inconceivable, and now it is potential. It is an excellent, nice feeling to be in Mexico and having the Mexican crowd tomorrow on courtroom.”

Muguruza, a two-time Monterrey champion in 2018 and 2019, has thrived in Mexico earlier than, and may moderately count on important crowd assist. However even Monterrey did not have the altitude of Guadalajara, which is 5.138ft above sea degree. Each Muguruza and Pliskova have stated that they’ve struggled to get used to the situations.

“I play flat, the ball flies,” stated Pliskova. “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 situations, so I can not actually say how it may be. I simply understand how the practices went. We is not going to discuss that.”

With seven earlier WTA Finals appearances between them, Pliskova and Muguruza stand out as probably the most skilled individuals in 2021 – the remaining six gamers are all making their match 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 displaying got here in 2015, whereas Pliskova has fallen within the final 4 in 2017, 2018 and 2019. As well as, that is Pliskova’s final shot at preserving her streak of profitable eventually one title yearly since 2013. Her resurgence this season after a sluggish 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 onerous courts and 2-0 on the WTA Finals.


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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