Garbiñe Muguruza wins WTA Tour final in Mexico

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – As her last shot forced a final mistake and Garbiñe Muguruza beat Anett Kontaveit and slammed an exclamation mark ...


GUADALAJARA, Mexico – As her last shot forced a final mistake and Garbiñe Muguruza beat Anett Kontaveit and slammed an exclamation mark on the tennis season by winning the WTA final, the veteran player has won more than ‘a simple individual triumph.

It wasn’t just a victory for one player, but for the power and aggressiveness of women’s tennis and the unique form of mental toughness it demands.

Muguruza, who won 6-3, 7-5, in 99 minutes, had her opponent on her heels from the start, finding opportunities to break Kontaveit almost every time she served in the first set, pushing in. forward and backing Kontaveit far behind the baseline and rushing to the back of the field. Kontaveit, an Estonian, struggled, forcing Muguruza to raise her level of play in the second set. But after an hour and a half, Kontaveit looked like a fighter whose arms were still swinging but whose shaking legs could no longer support her.

“A dream come true to play here,” said Muguruza, a Spaniard who Mexican fans adopted as one of their own during the tournament.

Trying to guess the next dominant player in women’s tennis has long since become a futile act. The game produces surprise champions almost every week. But what unfolded a mile above sea level in the middle of Mexico last week has provided plenty of clues as to where women’s football is heading. Players hoping to reach the elite level would do well to figure out how to hit the ball as hard as possible, then try to hit it a little harder, without worrying too much about the inevitable misfires.

“It doesn’t always go your way,” said Kontaveit, who survived Greece’s Maria Sakkari attack in the semifinals and understood the modern power play of the day like few others have. during its white-hot last month of the season. . “You miss a few shots. Be kind to yourself and look forward to the next point.

WTA Finals are different from other tournaments, where better players can usually spend a few rounds getting to grips with the ball against inferior competition. The WTA Finals only include the top eight players available for the season. Every game is a test of the caliber of a Grand Slam quarterfinal, or something even more difficult, that clearly shows what it takes to win at the highest level, night after night.

The tennis of the past eight days was not for the faint of heart. It was a collection of women detonating ball after ball after ball, primarily trying to hit their opponents to subdue them rather than pass them.

The eight-man squad in Mexico included two players – Iga Swiatek from Poland and Barbora Krejcikova from the Czech Republic – who approach the pitch with an old-fashioned mix of finesse and artistry. Swiatek and Krejcikova had a combined 1-5 record in the round robin and failed to advance to the semi-finals. The final four were made up of players whose specialty is hitting untouchable balls through the back of the field at lightning speed. When the ball lands inside the lines, the strategy wins points and plays and crushes an opponent’s mind.

Muguruza, a 28-year-old two-time Grand Slam champion, has been doing this for quite some time, even though it was the first time she reached the final of the ultimate tournament of the year.

A dozen years ago, after growing up to six feet tall, she realized that following in the stylistic footsteps of the great Spaniards of the previous generation was not going to work for her. They were classic defenders, so called dirt players who perfected their clay game and waged wars of attrition in tennis.

“I’m a tall woman, with big arms and my personality doesn’t match the classic Spanish game,” Muguruza said on Tuesday. “I wanted to dominate.

She’s done a lot in Guadalajara, and it was fitting that in order to qualify for the final, Muguruza first had to beat the next iteration of herself in Paula Badosa, a 23-year-old Spaniard who modeled her game on that of Muguruza. Like Muguruza, Badosa is six feet tall and saw Muguruza as another way to play.

“The other Spanish players play differently,” Badosa said. “She was the only one who played super aggressively.”

It is true that if Ashleigh Barty of Australia, the highest ranked player in the world, had chosen to play this championship, finesse could have played a bigger role last week. Barty’s biggest weapon is a sliced ​​backhand, although she, too, hits plenty of forehands from the back of the field and is among the game’s leaders when it comes to serve aces. But Barty ended his season in September after spending six straight months on the road due to Australia’s restrictive rules for international travelers.

And so, the WTA 2021 Finals played out mostly as a series of slugfests in which brute force was as powerful a weapon as a drop shot.

There was a three-set brawl between Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and Sakkari, the tour’s reigning gym rat. After surviving Sabalenka, Sakkari spoke of using his supreme strength and physical form as weapons.

“It makes a lot of players a little intimidated because they know I can last a long time,” said Sakkari.

Playing with relentless aggression, however, is a high-risk, high-reward game, a tightrope walk without a safety net that brings wild swings over the course of a season, or even a game.

Kontaveit lost four straight games and lost almost all of her confidence over the summer when she couldn’t make enough constant and true contact with the ball. Then she started in the fall and won the last two tournaments to clinch the last place in this championship.

Sabalenka grabbed the momentum and a 3-1 lead in the final set on Monday night against Sakkari. Then nerves kicked in and his balls couldn’t find the ground. With a game that is all the time all the time, Sabalenka was running out of options and barking like a dog through the night as Sakkari won five straight games to win their nearly three hour battle.

But 21 hours later, in the semifinals, those same crushing cross backhands from Sakkari continued to float long and wide or get hammered through the net by Kontaveit. Sakkari then found her rhythm and found herself within three games of the finish line. But her explosions started hitting the net and flying for a long time again, and she couldn’t find a way out of both a physical and mental rut.

“A missed opportunity,” she said, crying at the end.

Wednesday night’s championship game was a last heavyweight fight.

Muguruza muscled up a backhand for his chance to win the first set, and oddly won it with a magical topspin lob, one of the few someone’s tried all week in Mexico. Soon, however, he was back to big shots, dart serves on the turns and deep practice on the lines from the first opportunities. She fell behind at the end of the second set and needed a final push of power to get through the last three games, collapsing onto her back when Kontaveit’s last ball hit the middle of the net.

Great tennis players have remarkable long term memories and terrible short term memories.

They remember the details of points played a decade earlier and can recall an opponent’s catalog of tendencies in the heat of competition.

But they also have the gift of forgetting a point, a game or a set lost as soon as it is no longer there. They play every point, every stroke, on its own merits. Throw a forehand into the net. Fine. Here is the next one, hit just as hard and with the utmost conviction that he will find the back corner of the court.

That’s what Muguruza was able to do in the crucial moment on Wednesday night.

With the ascendancy of the power play, this is likely the path anyone looking to compete for championships and reach that elite final will need to follow in 2022.

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