SINGAPORE – Before the tournament began at the WTA Finals, it looked like every player amongst the top 8 had a real shot to win the title. But reality set in quickly when the more confident competitors won on Sunday – Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova – and on Monday, two players who have been looked intense in Asia, Garbine Muguruza and Angie Kerber, who won their contests.
Muguruza out-muscled Lucie Safarova 6-3, 7-6. The 22-year-old Spaniard has been on fire, winning Beijing, walking without fear and playing very smartly. Safarova has just come back due to a bacteria infection and, while at times she was striking the ball fairly deeply, she wasn’t as powerful as she did during the summer. Anytime she wanted to, Muguruza would attack. She was wasn’t playing perfect, but she was forceful. Both of them are in the doubles at the tournament, too, so they both are very confident at the net, and they can jump all over soft serves.
Muguruza was gutsy, and she was consistently better. She didn’t shake. Right now, she looks like she is super confident, just like in early July, when she was grinning all day, every day, when she reached the final at Wimbledon.
“I love the way she plays and her mentality,” said the former No. 1 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. “She’s a great player and person. It’s excellent.”
Safarova thinks that Muguruza is a “young very, very great player.” But for herself, the Czech isn’t quite there yet. She said that she was a little sad, because in the second set, she was very close, but physically, she wasn’t able to disturb her.
“I’m slowly back in my game, but of course you need the wins,” Safarova said. Yes she does, when she will have to go up against Petra Kvitova on Wednesday.
The other lefty Czech Kvitova also went down, losing against Angie Kerber 6-2, 7-6. Kvitova had beaten Kerber the last three times they played, all long three-setters, including at the 2013 WTA Finals, and last November, in the Fed Cup final when Kvitova came through 7-6 (5) 4-6 6-4. In Prague, the fans were delirious.
This time on Monday, Kerber was slightly better. The German was more composed, she wanted to engage as many rallies as she could and if Kvitova happened to hit short, Kerber jumped on them. Over the past four years ago, when they both became very good, Kvitova was more courageous, which is why she has won two majors and Kerber has yet to do so. The Czech has a substantially bigger serve and her forehand is more powerful. However, Kerber can be more patient, is faster, can go side-to-side and whack her sharp backhands. When Kvitova gets into a zone, she can out hit anyone, because she absolutely crushes the ball. But, once again, she isn’t feeling right physically and she went down.
“It’s really tough to describe,” Kvitova said about her health. “I was just talking with my fitness coach and I was trying to describe it and it’s very difficult. I mean, it’s just something what I really can’t do anything against. My blood test was not the best one. So I couldn’t really do the one I wanted to be prepared for everything. I felt I wasn’t able to stay in the kind of good rally what she played. I miss so early. From that time I started to hit a little bit harder and I made some mistakes, so it was a little difficult to find a balance like between rallies and winners and some kind of volleys and anything. She still played very good shots out there today, and I am going to try to do my best the next match.”
Kerber has been very effected during the Asian swing, so this time around, she didn’t decide that she could engage a marathon – which she loves to do – but she would be aggressive whenever she could. She also wanted to make sure that she could get the balls back anyway she could. Next up is Muguruza and Kerber will have to change it up, because the Spaniard has her number.
I lost to her in two Grand Slams and also in the Asia swing,” Kerber said. “I’m looking forward to play against her. I will try to take my revenge now and try to go out there to beat her. She had an amazing year. She played unbelievable this year, so it will be for sure a tough match. But at the end I know a little bit how she’s playing. I will try to go for it. That’s for sure.”