Muguruza Wins Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Garbiñe Muguruza (photo: DDF Tennis)

DUBAI/WASHINGTON, March 13, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza ended a two-year WTA title drought by winning the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships singles final over Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic, 7-6 (6), 6-3 at the Aviation Club Tennis Center Saturday night.

The Spaniard’s triumph, her first since lifting the winner’s trophy at Monterrey, Mexico, in 2019, provided Muguruza with her eighth career title and improved her win-loss record in finals to 8-7. It came just a week after losing last week’s Qatar Total Open final against Petra Kvitova.

“It means a lot. It’s never easy to win titles,” Muguruza told Tennis TourTalk during her well-attended virtual press conference held in both English and Spanish that followed her championship victory. “It doesn’t happen often. I’m excited it happened now after a few finals that didn’t go my way.”

Saturday’s two-hour and eight-minute final played without spectators at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium Centre Court could be characterized as one in which the two-time Grand Slam champion Muguruza showed grace under pressure – she dropped just one set all week – and made her hard work pay off. Her victory over Krejcikova improved her 2021 win-loss record to 18-4, best on the WTA tour this season.

“It’s a nice relief to be able to hold a champion’s trophy and not the finalist’s trophy,” said Muguruza, who beat three Top 20 players – No. 15 Iga Swiatek, No. 8 Aryna Sabalenka and No. 18 Elise Mertens in consecutive rounds over a three-day run. “I mean, it was such a tight match and it could have gone either way. I feel the finals are very hard. You’re playing the best players of that week. I had to work hard for it tonight. Yeah, I’m very happy about it.”

From the outset, the World No. 16 Muguruza was determined to win her first title of the year while playing in her third championship final out of the five WTA tournaments that have dotted the 2021 calendar so far. Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Krejcikova, who was appearing in just her second career WTA final and first at the 1000-series level, showed signs of nervousness throughout the final as evidenced by numerous ball-toss interruptions that plagued her service games. Although an accomplished doubles and mixed doubles player and Grand Slam champion, the No. 63 Krejcikova will have to wait another time to win her first WTA singles title after being a runner-up twice, first in 2017 at Nürnberg and now in Dubai.

By the end of the final, it was the more-experienced Muguruza who, at age 27, was able to handle the pressure of the moment while calming her nerves best. She is playing some of the best tennis of her career this year.

During Krejcikova’s virtual press conference in both English and Czech, she expressed disappointment in herself for not playing better. However, she remained upbeat and gave props to Muguruza, saying she learned a great deal from playing in her first big singles final.

“Let’s be honest, I’m very disappointed. I was very close, playing very well,” said Krejcikova, whose ranking will improve to a career-high No. 36 on Monday after reaching the Dubai final. “Today, I was playing a close match with such a great champion as Garbiñe. Overall, tomorrow, I’m going to wake up and feel like I did so well. I’ve learned so much and gained so much experience from this week. It motivates me to go and work harder, play better, really enjoy the process.”

After exchanging service breaks in the first two games of the opening set, both players settled in for what appeared to be a game of measured responses. While Krejcikova looked for whatever opportunities she could find – not afraid to come in on Muguruza’s short-ball returns to hit good, solid forehand returns – the Spaniard continued to dominate the power game. She broke Krejcikova to go from a break down earlier to a break up, ahead 4-2. However, the Czech recovered and with a 30-40 breakpoint, she won a 13-shot rally as Muguruza netted a return off a backhand volley return by Krejcikova to get back on serve.

As each competitor showed maturity during their service games – Krejcikova with a forhand winner for 5-all and Muguruza hitting her second ace of the match up the “T” to hold for 6-5 – the Spaniard gained three set points, which Krejcikova erased one at a time with the third one coming after Muguruza slipped going backward to set up a return. Krejcikova earned an incredible hold with a backhand passing shot winner to send the first set to a tie break. Both had won their only tie break of the week earlier in the tournament.

During the tie break, Krejcikova gained a set point at 6-5, but couldn’t put it away as Muguruza exuded grace under pressure. The Spaniard hit a forehand winner off a wide serve return, served her fourth ace and won a terse three-shot rally that ended when Krejcikova hit a long return to win 8-6 as the match reached the 65-minute plateau.

As the second set began, following an undisclosed 12-minute restroom break by Krejcikova, Muguruza broke the Czech in the very first game, polishing off a 13-shot rally that ended on a forced error by Krejcikova. Then, Muguruza saved three break points during a 14-point game and held with a solid forehand winner down the line. Later, she held for 4-2 after saving two more break points during another 14-point game that lasted more than seven minutes. Although Krejcikova stayed within a break of leveling the set , Muguruza gained an easy hold for 5-3 with an ace. Then, she sprinted to a 0-40 advantage and won the match and the title on her second championship-point opportunity, after Krejcikova ended the final rally of the evening with a long forehand return.

The former No. 1 Muguruza finished with seven aces and hit 31 winners and 31 unforced errors, while Krejcikova ended with 21 winners against 29 unforced errors.

When Tennis TourTalk asked Krejcikova what makes Muguruza such a great competitor, she gave a thoughtful response: “She’s more experienced than I am, for sure, especially in singles. She’s won Grand Slams, it’s amazing she’s achieved so much. She’s so focused, plays every single ball, is really aggressive. Today, she served really well and helped herself way more than I did. … I’ll learn from it, continue to work hard and next time, when I get to the final, I’m going to hold the trophy.”

Muguruza was asked if winning her latest title boosted her confidence, the new Dubai champion, who will move up to No. 13 next week, said: “It definitely helps the confidence, having a trophy under your belt is a real proof you are playing well, that you are doing the right thing.

“I’m always determined and believe in myself no matter my ranking. It doesn’t really matter the ranking I had to win this tournament. In the end, I always believe that every time I go out there [on the court] that I am one of the players who can get the trophy. I’ve always believed that, in good moments and in bad moments.”

Guarachi/Jurak win doubles title

No. 8 seeds Alexa Guarachi of Chile and Darija Jurak from Croatia won their first WTA 1000 title with their 6-0, 6-3 victory over Xu Yifan and Yang Zhaoxuan, both from China. Guarachi raised her arms in victory when her serve on match point was returned long. Soon, she embraced Jurak in celebration.

The winners saved all three break points they faced during the 54-minute match and broke their opponents four times. Guarachi and Jurak outpointed Xu and Yang 53-32.

The title is the second in Dubai and seventh overall for Jurak, who won in the Emirates in 2016 with Chuang Chia-jung, while it’s Guarachi’s fourth career title and second of the season following her triumph at the Adelaide International with Desirae Krawczyk of the United States.

News & noteworthy

Garbiñe Muguruza, the first Spanish woman to reach the Dubai singles final, will move to No. 13 when the WTA Rankings are updated on Monday.

Barbora Krejcikova, who came in ranked 63rd, was the lowest-ranked player to advance to the Dubai final. However, with her run to the final this week, her ranking will improve measurably. She will post a new-career high of No. 36 next week. Krejcikova was also the fifth Czech to reach the Dubai final in the past nine years.