Muguruza Rallies To Win Chicago Fall Tennis Classic Title

Garbiñe Muguruza (photo: WTA Video)

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON, October 4, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Never count out Garbiñe Muguruza when there’s a title on the line. While the Spaniard may not always cross the finish line first, she always gives her best effort. Sunday afternoon, with rain lingering in the forecast, the second-seeded Muruguza beat the showers and also her opponent, No. 6 seed Ons Jabeur, 3-6, 6-3, 6-0, to win the inaugural WTA 500 Chicago Fall Tennis Classic.

The World No. 9 Muguruza proved it’s not how you start but how you finish – and she finished with a flourish. Muguruza won the final 10 games of the one-hour and 37-minute final at XS Tennis Village on the Chicago South Side.

The title victory was the former No. 1 Muguruza’s second this season and first since she won at Dubai in early March. She improved her hard-court win-loss record to 12-4 since the start of the Tokyo Olympics. It was her ninth career title on the WTA Tour. Meanwhile, Jabeur, who earlier won her first title at Birmingham, England on grass – becoming the first Arab woman to win a WTA title – was appearing in her third final this season. Earlier, she lost the final of the MUSC Health Women’s Open at Charleston, S.C. in April.

“That was a battle, especially those first sets,” Muguruza said during her news conference. “We’ve played recently, this year at Wimbledon, and it was a very tough match.” Jabeur beat Muguruza 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 on grass at in the third round of the Wimbledon Championships in early July.

“I knew that she’s having one of the best season’s that a player can have. I was prepared, I went out there with all the fighting spirit in the pocket,” Muguruza added.

Many in the XS Tennis Village crowd that packed the main court bleachers were Tunisian fans, proudly waving their familiar red and white Tunisia flags, and it energized Jabeur, who came out pumped and excited. She peppered her attack with her trademark slice and drop-shot attack and, for a while, it worked effectively against the two-time Grand Slam champion during the first set of their third career meeting.

Jabeur, who broke Muguruza to take an early 3-1 lead, later crafted a brilliant drop shot to win the 32-minute opening set 6-3. It was her 13th winner against just three unforced errors and she outpointed her opponent 30-21.

The 16th-ranked Jabeur’s positive body language – peppered with a few fist pumps – showed she was ready to take control of the final. Inside the lines, she was winning the match – and outside the lines, she was winning over the crowd, too.

“She was playing amazing in the first set, and my level was not at what it should be to play against her,” Muguruza admitted.

Jabeur immediately broke the Spaniard to begin the second set with a 1-0 lead. However, the tenor of the changed with the weather. Although she saved a break point in the ensuing service game, the Tunisian was unable to consolidate the break. Muguruza broke to level the score at 1-all. By the fifth game, Jabeur broke Muguruza, again, to pull ahead 3-2. However, Muguruza was not done. Instead, she broke Jabeur in the sixth and eighth games to lead 5-3 and found herself serving for the set and a chance to send it to a decider.

Jabeur wasn’t done fighting, though. She saved a trio of set points to gain deuce and earned a break point that Muguruza later saved after Jabeur hit a backhand beyond the baseline. Then, Jabeur saved a fourth set point when the Spaniard double-faulted for the second time. However, Muguruza saved a second break point, and on her fifth set point won the 39-minute second set 6-3 after Jabeur netted a second-shot forehand.

“I slowly found a space in the second set to break and to get that one, and force a decider,” Muguruza said. “That gave me the extra confidence I neeed, and also the energy to go and get the trophy.”

Onward to the decider, which was delayed 10 minutes by a brief rain shower. Then, Muguruza promptly came out and broke Jabeur at love to take a 1-0 lead. She consolidated the break with a love hold, then powered her way to a second break of Jabeur in the set to take a commanding 3-0 lead. It was plainly evident that she had amped up her intensity level a notch or two. Suddenly, the momentum was clearly in Muguruza’s favor and her fans became more vocal, too. The Spaniard consolidated her second straight break with a hold for a 4-0 advantage, needing only two more holds to win the title.

First, Jabeur faced break points on her serve for the third straight game in the final set and netted a backhand return on her third shot that allowed Muguruza to break her serve, again, for a 5-0 lead. Suddenly, the match was on Muguruza’s racquet, serving for the championship, and she wasn’t going to throw away her best shot.

Soon, Muguruza gained a match point at 40-15, then on the next point raised her arms in victory after Jabeur’s service return grazed the net and bounced away. The title was Muguruza’s and it was the fourth time this year she’s come back to win after losing the first set.

“Well, I had to be very strong mentally,” Muguruza said. “I suffered that first set, when it didn’t go my way. Then, I just said: ‘Okay, this is tennis. I have another set and if I win it, I have another opportunity.’ I definitely gave it all, it was the final, the moment where you have to give everything in the tank, and forcing that deciding set gave me all the energy to be able to jump in the score and dominate that final set. I wanted to impose my game.”

With the victory, worth 470 points to the titlist, Muguruza (37-14) moved into sixth place in the Porsche Race to Shenzhen standings for the season-ending, eight-player WTA Finals tournament that has been moved to Guadalajara, Mexico this year due to coronavirus concerns. Jabeur (44-17), who is currently in ninth place, is projected to improve to No. 14 in the WTA rankings, continuing her rise.

“It was a great tournament, beating some tournaments that I never won against before,” Jabeur said in press. “I tried hard, I fought hard for most of the matches. It was an incredible tournament, you know. It’s a shame that it ended with a loss and I hope I can learn from this loss.

“Main goal is to qualify to Guadalajara. This tournament had a big push to help me go through and get my rhythm on hard courts. I will try my best to improve more and be able to win as many points as possible, especially at Indian Wells and I hope this can help me be able to qualify for Guadalajara.”

Ageless Peschke and Petkovic win first doubles title together

Unseeded Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic and Andrea Petkovic of Germany converted seven of seven break points and won the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic doubles title with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over the wild card team of Caroline Dolehide and Coco Vandeweghe, both of the United States. The final was moved inside due to the threat of rain showers.

The 46-year-old Peschke and Petkovic, 34, dropped just two sets en route to their title victory. Although it was their first doubles title as a team – and the first doubles crown for Petkovic – the veteran Peschke was appearing in her 78th WTA doubles final and the Chicago crown represented her 36th career doubles title.