Dubai Tennis: Muguruza sees off Mertens to set up final with Krejcikova

Spanish ninth seed Garbine Muguruza serves during her semifinal on Friday. (Supplied photo)
Spanish ninth seed Garbine Muguruza serves during her semifinal on Friday. (Supplied photo)

Dubai - It was an intense battle between the two with the first set taking 52 minutes

By James Jose

Published: Fri 12 Mar 2021, 9:23 PM

Last updated: Fri 12 Mar 2021, 9:36 PM

Spanish ninth seed Garbine Muguruza made it to her third final of the season after staving off the challenge from Belgian 10th seed Elise Mertens in the semifinal of the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Friday night.

Muguruza, the French Open and Wimbledon champion, and runner-up at last year’s Australian Open, finally converted her seventh match point to triumph 6-4, 7-6 (5) in two hours and seven minutes, on Centre Court of the Aviation Club Tennis Centre.

Muguruza set up a date with unseeded Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic after the latter defeated another unseeded player Jil Teichmann 7-5, 6-2, in the second semifinal.

In the first semifinal, it was an intense battle between Muguruza and Mertens with the first set taking 52 minutes, while the second set lasted 74 minutes. Mertens, who had saved three match points before prevailing against American Jessica Pegula in the quarterfinals on Thursday, fought tooth and nail but it was not to be, for the world No.18.

World No.16 Muguruza, who was contesting her third semifinal in Dubai with the previous ones being in 2015 and 2018, will be looking to finally lay her hands on a trophy this season after finishing second best twice.

The 27-year-old was runner-up to Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic at the Qatar Open in Doha last week and had lost to Australian Ashleigh Barty at the Yarra Valley Classic in Melbourne, last month.

Muguruza was broken in the very first game of the first set but Mertens was unable to take advantage as she lost serve in the next game. Muguruza held two break points at 15-40 and Mertens overshot a double-handed backhand over the baseline, to allow the former to level it at 1-1.

The Spaniard broke the Belgian in the fourth game and although Muguruza lost her serve in the ninth, she broke back in the next game with a brilliant down the line return. The sheer power on it meant that even though Mertens made a lunge for it, it went in vain.

The second set saw fortunes swing toward the fag end. Both held serve until Muguruza and Mertens traded breaks in the eighth and ninth, with the latter saving a match point.

Mertens then held serve to stay in the contest and the duo traded breaks again in the 11th and 12th to push it to the tie-breaker.

But Mertens’ luck finally ran out as Muguruza kept her composure to close out the tie-break and the match on her seventh match point.

“It took me quite a few match points to close the match,” a relieved Muguruza said on court, just after the match.

“She’s (Mertens) a very talented player and always gives you an extra ball back. I’m just happy that I could close it in two sets,” she added.

Muguruza said that it was vital that she kept her concentration and not lose focus against a gritty opponent like Mertens, despite being unable to close out the match earlier. The pair’s only previous meeting was at the 2016 US Open with Muguruza rallying from a set down to win the first-round encounter.

“You have to be concentrated all the time, if not, the opponent is going to come back and take the advantage. Even if I was 5-3 up and had a match point, I didn’t lose my focus, even I couldn’t close it there, just to be looking forward to the next opportunity,” she explained.

Looking ahead to the final, Muguruza, who increased her win-loss tally this season to 17-4, said she was eager to get her hands on a piece of silverware, after missing out twice this season.

“I’m very excited. I think it is always great to be in a final, to have these opportunities of holding the trophy. It has been a tough tournament with many matches and I am just excited to be able to have the last one tomorrow (Saturday),” said Muguruza, who has now won 15 matches in Dubai since making her debut here in 2015.

Earlier, in the afternoon, the unseeded Chinese pair of Yifan Xu and Zhaoxuan Yang stunned fifth-seeded duo Hungary’s Timea Babos and Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova, to enter the doubles final. Xu and Yang won the semifinal 6-3, 7-5 in an hour and 23 minutes, on Centre Court.

Yang will be aiming for a second trophy in Dubai after triumphing here with Chan Hao-Ching in 2018.

They will take on either eighth seeds Darija Jurak of Croatia and Alexa Guarachi of Chile or American pair Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jessica Pegula, in the final.

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