Dubai 2021: Third time lucky as Garbine Muguruza reaches third final of year

Muguruza needed seven match points to beat Elise Mertens, reaching the Dubai final after her third semi

Garbine Muguruza
Garbine Muguruza (Photo: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships)

An outstanding WTA1000 draw in Dubai this week began with 11 women ranked in the top 20, four of them in the top 10.

There were six Major champions, three former Dubai champions, and five 2021 titlists among the 56 players. However, by the semi-finals, just two seeds remained, and they happened to play one another. They also happened to be two of the form players of 2021.

Garbine Muguruza, a Major champion and former No1, had reached two finals, including last week’s Doha, and as she stepped up to the line for the semi-final, she had won more matches than anyone this year, 16-4. It had taken some big names to beat her, too: Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova.

And she in turn put out some of the biggest names in Dubai: Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, and the impressive teenager Amanda Anisimova.

Now she took on Elise Mertens, ranked 18 to Muguruza’s 16, and a champion already in 2021, with the Gippsland Trophy in Melbourne. Mertens was 11-1 for the season, and that followed a final run at the end of 2020 in Linz. Indeed, she had won 34 matches since the corona virus lockdown last March, more than any other player.

The Belgian had also saved three match points to beat Jessica Pegula in the quarters, and she would threaten to turn around this match, too, after Muguruza looked to have the match under her power-playing control.

Both players had the other under pressure right from the start, exchanging breaks in the opening two games, before Muguruza saved two more break points to hold for 2-1 and then broke to lead 3-1.

The Spaniard went on to hold set point at 5-3, and although Mertens broke her serve, Muguruza was able to break again to claim the first set, 6-4.

Each player had break point opportunities as the second set got underway, before Muguruza did get the first break of the set to lead 5-3, and she then held four match points. But Mertens put together a hot passage of play to break again, a run of three games, and attempted to serve for the set.

However, the Spaniard regrouped, stepped into the court and began finding the lines with huge pace and penetration, forcing the break. The set went to a tie-break, and Muguruza’s composure remained firmly in place.

Almost half an hour after her first match point, she had three more, 6-3, and after Mertens saved two of the them, Muguruza finally won through, 7-6(5), to reach her third consecutive final.

Muguruza admitted:

“I think it was a very tough match. It was two sets but a tough two sets, long points, a lot of rallies. It was a very physical match. I don’t think I played the match points bad. I didn’t lose concentration or get too irritated.

“She was bringing her best shots at the right time, and I was happy and relieved in the end that I could close it out in two sets. I could feel that if she got the second set she was going to be more pumped for the third set. She was tough, she was hanging in there.”

Mertens considered she had played a good match but that she didn’t have enough to overcome an excellent opponent.

“I tried to stay in the match. She’s a very powerful player and I tried to get as many balls back as I could. I’m pretty happy with the level I played at. She’s a very dominant player, very consistent too. She’s a tough opponent.”

Muguruza will now face Barbora Krejcikova, who beat Jil Teichmann, 7-5, 6-2. Although Krejcikova failed to qualify in Doha last week, she has not dropped a set throughout the week in Dubai, and at 63, is the lowest ranked woman ever to reach the final of the tournament.

Teichmann offered a strong challenge, holding two set points at 5-4, but Krejcikova not only fought off the threat but broke to lead 6-5, and went on to claim the opening set.

The second set too was keenly contested, with Krejcikova saving two break points when serving at 5-2 before winning on her third match point.

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