It could not get much better than this. The current Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza will face the Roland Garros finalist Simona Halep in a final showdown for the Cincinnati title on Sunday.
The match will offer a lot for many WTA fans. The mouthwatering battle of sheer, brutal attacking tennis against one of the best movers and defenders on a tennis court. One player that looks to win the point outright against a player that tries to make the conditions, the pace of the ball, and the outcome of the rally as uncomfortable as possible for her opponent. The question will be whether offensive or defensive tennis will come out on top as both are in blistering form coming into this final.
Muguruza’s run to the Cincinnati final has been tough, but the overwhelming feeling is that she learns from her previous defeats like all great champions do. She lost to Madison Keys in Stanford, and avenged that defeat just two weeks later here in Cincinnati. She faced a grueling matchup against the determined Svetlana Kuznetsova and faced every challenge with positivity and commitment in her shots, while also not losing sight of what she was trying to do on the tennis court. That’s the biggest positive in Muguruza’s game. In her early years on the WTA, as she found her feet on tour, you almost felt like her aggressive baseline game demonstrated unbelievable and forceful power from the back of the court, but with no real game-plan or structure to her tennis.
Now you can see the different layers she has added to her game. She has improved her movement immensely, which allows her to win defensive as well as offensive points. She is now willing to build points to gain an advantage rather than forcing the point, which often contributed to many unforced errors.
A big and important transformation in the Spaniard’s game which has played a significant role in her evolution as a tennis player and as a person is the mentality. She not only learned from her defeats, but she learned from her great experiences in Roland Garros in 2016. The aftermath of that campaign at the Roland-Garros did not go according to plan, but now Muguruza is more experienced and understands what she needs to do different to make the next few months as successful as possible. All she is looking for is consistency and consistency is what she is showing after three tournaments of the US Open series.
She made the semi-finals of Stanford as the No.1 seed. She then advanced to the Quarter-Finals of Toronto, where she lost to eventual champion Elina Svitolina and then backed that week up with a final showing in Cincinnati. She is feeling confident and there is a particular smoothness and calmness to her tennis, which was not apparent in previous years. Just maybe she is finally coming to terms to life as a top professional and maybe now she feels comfortable in her own skin as that top professional and the demands that come with it.
Muguruza is looking for a 5th triumph on the WTA Tour, but Simona Halep will have something to say about that. The Romanian is one win away from claiming the World No.1 ranking for the first time in her career, which is something she has come close to achieving many times already this year. At Roland Garros she needed to beat Jelena Ostapenko in the final to get the top spot but buckled incredibly under the spotlight. She came close at Eastbourne and came within a match of getting it again at Wimbledon before losing to Johanna Konta in the quarterfinals.
The Romanian No.1 has had a lot of matches which slipped out of her grasp, but she stil has produced an incredibly consistent year – one of her most consistent years on the tour.
The key question in the buildup to this match is whether Halep feels the expectation and pressure in this match. She has a lot on the line. She has much more on the line and much more to lose than Muguruza. If Halep was to lose this match it would be seen as another missed chance of achieving one of the greatest feats in professional tennis that not many players ever get to achieve. It goes without saying that Halep has the expectation, but it will be interesting to see whether she responds better on the fourth time of asking and really puts on a clinic like a true World No.1 player would.
Muguruza holds the cards to victory. She has the capability to dictate points from the back of the court. She can win cheap points off of her serve and she also wins the battle in the mini-contest of second serve to second serve. If Halep fails to keep a high percentage of first serves then Muguruza will prey upon the second serve of Halep, which is a shot that can be attacked.
I think the Spaniard will get over the line and win the Cincinnati title and perhaps this could give her the confidence to make her own journey to the World No.1 ranking at the upcoming US Open, where she has plenty of points to gain.