Wuhan Open: Venus Williams wins title 47 to open door to Singapore

Venus Williams wins her 47th WTA singles title as Garbine Muguruza pulls out of the Wuhan Open final with an injury when trailing 6-3 3-0

The signs were there at the conclusion of the semi-finals of the Premier Wuhan Open tournament. Both unseeded Venus Williams and No5 seed Garbine Muguruza picked up injuries in their semi-finals as they edged tie-break wins, and set up a final that had more than just the title at stake.

On the line were big ranking points that could make the difference between qualifying for the climax of the WTA season in Singapore or just missing out.

For Williams, it was a remarkable scenario, one that even her most ardent fans could not have contemplated—perhaps until, ranked 23, she made her impressive run to the quarter-finals of the US Open, the very tournament where she was diagnosed with the debilitating Sjögren’s Syndrome in 2011. Now, she was in her first final since winning in Auckland at the start of the year, and her biggest final since the Rogers Cup last year.

For Muguruza, this was the latest proof of the big talent that the 21-year Spaniard had become in the last year—12 months during which she had rise from just inside the top 30 to a current No8 via her first Grand Slam at Wimbledon. Now she was poised to break the top five and confirm her place at the WTA Championships.

Both these tall, elegant women would bring similar power to the table, with clean, strong hitting from the back of the court and an attacking mind-set. Williams of course brought years of experience, too, garnered from 76 previous finals, seven Grand Slams and almost 20 years on the pro tour. But Muguruza had taken out the likes of Sloane Stephens, Ana Ivanovic and Angelique Kerber this week, and had claimed more big scalps during the year: Agnieszka Radwanska, Sara Errani, Timea Bacsinszky, Flavia Pennetta, Caroline Wozniacki… all women currently in the reckoning for Singapore.

As they arrived on court, though, it looked as though Williams was already at a disadvantage, with both thighs heavily strapped and walking awkwardly. Muguruza, too, walked a little stiffly and had both ankles encased in supports, but when play got under way, the Spaniard looked strong and spritely, fired a return of serve winner off the first Williams ball, and broke straight away.

However, Williams had clearly determined to go for first-strike tennis, and laid down her own marker with a break back. She then battled through a long hold, and stepped inside the baseline to intimidate a growing tally of second serves from the Spaniard for a break in the sixth game.

Muguruza followed suit with her own huge returns to break Williams to love, only to concede her serve with a double fault to go 3-5 down. Williams smelled blood, and served superbly to take the set to love, 6-3.

It soon became apparent in the second set that Muguruza was struggling as her serve deteriorated: She could get little spring in her delivery and was punished by Williams’ aggressive replies. With two breaks on the score-board, 0-3, the Spaniard retired, and she cut a despondent figure in accepting her runners-up trophy: “Well, this is a sad day today. I’m very sorry I had to retire, but I had a really amazing week here in Wuhan. I felt so much support from the crowd: it was great.

“Also, I really want to congratulate Venus. She’s always such a tough player and she had an amazing week, as well. For sure we’ll play again soon, and it’s going to be a tough match, of course.”

For Williams, though, this was the most valuable win since the last 900-point Premier in Dubai in 2010. And injured or not, her ball-striking and fighting spirit this week have been a timely reminder that this great player is far from done, though she admitted to Muguruza, “I probably didn’t have a chance if you felt well!”

She added: “I feel like everyone else on tour, I work hard, I do my best and as long as you continue to work hard and believe in yourself then you can have the results you want. That’s exactly what I’ve done and it hasn’t been the easiest road but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a road worth travelling. 

I didn’t think of quitting but it’s definitely a lot of stress to play when you’re in pain. But for me I focus on everything that I can accomplish and not on what’s bothering me. My opponent wasn’t so lucky today. The pain was just too much for her and I was really sorry to hear that.”

The Spanish star, even so, rises to No5 in the rankings for the first time and strengthens her quest for the year-end WTA Finals. As for Williams, she surged from 23 in the Race before Wuhan to No9. It’s a remarkable run that could see the evergreen Venus playing the tour’s showstopper for the first time since 2009, in an event she has won just once, in 2008.

There are, nevertheless, many factors to be resolved before the final line-up is set, not least the injury status of both Williams and Muguruza—who have both been given byes to the second round to help them recover, along with fellow Wuhan semi-finalists, Kerber and Vinci.

Find out more about the state of play for Williams, Muguruza and a multitude of other players as they head into the final three weeks of qualification for Singapore.

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