WTA Finals: Garbine's great debut

Garbine Muguruza stretching to return against Lucie Safarova in her debut WTA Finals match yesterday. She had lost to Safarova in their only previous encounter at the French Open, but is on a great run of form after reaching the Wimbledon final and w
Garbine Muguruza stretching to return against Lucie Safarova in her debut WTA Finals match yesterday. She had lost to Safarova in their only previous encounter at the French Open, but is on a great run of form after reaching the Wimbledon final and winning the China Open earlier this month.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

In-form Muguruza easily beats Safarova to kick off her maiden WTA Finals appearance

As far as first impressions go, Garbine Muguruza certainly left a lasting one on her singles debut at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global last night.

Regarded widely as tennis' next big talent, the Spaniard did not disappoint as she dispatched fellow debutante Lucie Safarova 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) to begin her maiden campaign with a confidence-boosting win.

Displaying the aggressive game that saw her reach this year's Wimbledon final and capture the China Open title earlier this month, Muguruza was relentless as she tore through her opponent's defence.

  • Order of play

  • 1pm

    Bethanie Mattek-Sands

    (USA)/Lucie Safarova (Cze) v Chan Hao-ching/Chan Yung-jan (Tpe)

    Not before 3pm

    Agnieszka Radwanska (Pol) v Flavia Pennetta (Ita)

    Not before 6.30pm

    WTA Legends Classic

    Tracy Austin (USA) /Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (Esp) v Marion Bartoli (Fra)/Martina Navratilova (USA)

    Not before 7.30pm

    Simona Halep (Rou) v Maria Sharapova (Rus)

    Followed by

    Caroline Garcia (Fra)/Katarina Srebotnik (Slo) v Garbine Muguruza/Carla Suarez Navarro (Esp)

She created 15 break-point opportunities, with nine coming in the first set alone as the 22-year-old, who has been based in Singapore for the past fortnight preparing, seized the initiative.

She said: "There's always a bit of nerves as it was the first match for me. But I thought I played really good tonight and fought very well."

Blessed with an impressive 1.82m physique, Muguruza was able to generate tremendous power off both wings, even on the slow hard courts at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

It kept Safarova, who had beaten the then-world No. 21 Muguruza in straight sets in their only previous meeting at the French Open quarter-finals, on the backfoot.

A lot has changed since that encounter in Paris, noted the Czech, who reached the Roland Garros final but has been plagued by a bacterial infection since August. Not only is Muguruza now the world No. 3 but her self-belief has also soared.

"Even in the key moments of the match she remained very strong," said Safarova.

It was a point also noted by Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, the former world No. 1 and four-time Grand Slam champion who is in town for the Legends Classic.

Alluding to Muguruza's big-game attitude, the Spaniard said: "I love the way she plays and her mentality... She has the game that loves the power, the powerful game for today. She also likes to play against the best players."

A case in point was yesterday's tie-break. Muguruza's win-loss record in tie-breakers this year was 4-7, but she never looked in danger of losing her eighth.

Instead she raised her game, hit three aces, won a 20-shot rally to set up match point and duly converted for the win.

Despite her total of 10 aces, Muguruza and her coach Sam Sumyk will need to address her serve which, at 47 per cent, was well below her season average of 59 per cent .

It was exploited by Safarova in the second set as the left-hander finally found her rhythm and forced Muguruza into longer rallies. She broke early but ran out of steam at the end.

While her game is based on going on the offensive, Muguruza believes that she has learnt to be patient. "I'm making better choices, to wait for the perfect ball to really attack," she said.

With only two women ahead of her in the standings, Muguruza's mission is also clear.

"If I am No. 3, it is for a reason. I earned that place," said the Barcelona resident. "I don't know how far I can get in the rankings but definitely I'm trying to be there at the top, and not only to arrive but to try and stay there."

In the later match, eighth seed Angelique Kerber posted an impressive 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) win over two-time Wimbledon and 2011 WTA Finals champion Petra Kvitova to deliver her own statement of intent.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2015, with the headline 'Garbine's great debut'. Print Edition | Subscribe