It was a great opening day at the WTA Finals in Singapore for the World #2 Garbiñe Muguruza and World #3 Karolína Plíšková, who both powered to straight sets victories, albeit of different varieties. Plíšková only needed 72 minutes to power to a convincing win over Venus Williams, 6-2 6-2, whereas Muguruza needed nearly an hour and a half to fight off a spirited Jelena Ostapenko, with the score 6-3 6-4 in their later match. Tournament organisers will have been pleased with the quality of tennis on show, with both encounters providing exhilarating moments, despite what the score lines suggest.
The earlier singles session kicked off with Plíšková sending a message to her opponents that this could be her tournament for the taking. The Czech’s serve was imperious, ensuring that she ended the match with a 78% point conversion rate on first serve, giving Venus very little room to manoeuvre points. Plíšková got a few people talking prior to the tournament when she hinted at a potential coaching partnership with multiple doubles and mixed doubles champion, Rennae Stubbs. Stubbs’ subsequent appearance in Plíšková’s box during this match confirmed that the rumours were true, and it appears as though Stubbs is already starting to tweak elements of Plíšková’s game. Besides the improvement on serve, Plíšková also came into the net more than usual, finishing points off with a volley or drop shot. She varied her game more, in stark contrast to the reliance on baseline groundstrokes that tennis fans are usually used to seeing with the Czech. She also capitalised on what was a poor performance from Venus, exemplified by the American’s six double faults and 24% point conversion rate on second serve. If Plíšková can keep this up, she could be a strong contender for the title in Singapore. Nonetheless, bearing in mind Plíšková’s roller coaster 2017, there is still a long way to go before any potential title predictions on her part.
Another woman looking to put a slight rough patch of form behind her is Garbiñe Muguruza, who produced a confident, mature display of percentage tennis to overcome World #7, Jelena Ostapenko. Muguruza got off to the best possible start, breaking her Latvian counterpart’s serve twice to take a commanding 4-1 lead in the first set. She then successfully rallied her efforts to ward off a potential comeback from Ostapenko in the first set, who after having received some advice from her interim coach, Latvian Fed Cup captain Andis Juska, broke her straight back to narrow the gap to 4-3. Muguruza demonstrated the power of “just getting the ball back”, in Brad Gilbert terms, allowing the more erratic Ostapenko to make mistakes more often. The Spaniard also served very consistently, making only two double faults in the entire match, both of which came in the second set. This helped her gain a foothold in points at key moments in the match, and allowed her to gain the composure that she needed to overcome her opponent. Despite slipping from the position of World #1 in Beijing this month, Muguruza remains a strong contender for the tournament in Singapore. Based on this performance, it is easy to see why.
On the other hand, her opponent today, Ostapenko, can take plenty of credit from her performance, despite the result. She remains a wonderful player to watch, producing forehand and backhand winners of the highest calibre throughout the match. Moreover, she never gave up, and got herself back into the match both in the first and second sets, when the match seemed like it was getting away from her. Her recent split from coach Anabel Medina Garrigues, who helped guide her to her maiden Grand Slam title, placed her in a tricky position going into this tournament. Nonetheless, she can learn from Muguruza’s maturity in their match today, and if she takes that into her next match on Tuesday with Venus Williams, she could put herself in a good position to advance further in the tournament.
With these two matches bringing the first round of round robin matches in the “White Group” to a close, it is time now to look to tomorrow’s “Red Group” clashes, which also promise to bring some fantastic encounters.
Newly crowned World #1 Simona Halep will take on World #8, Caroline Garcia, in the early singles session tomorrow. Halep will be looking to cap off a long, but ultimately, successful 2017 with a win in this tournament. Nevertheless, she faces a tricky first round robin match against an opponent who beat her as recently as the Beijing final, earlier this month. Garcia has a tough schedule ahead of her during these ten days, due to her qualification for the doubles tournament as well, but she said that she was enjoying every minute of her experience at the WTA Finals so far, and this could be the perfect match with which to showcase that.
The second match of the day will see Caroline Wozniacki take on Elina Svitolina. Both players have had roller coaster years, with Wozniacki ending a run of six consecutive final losses by winning the title in Tokyo last month, and Svitolina winning her best-ever tally of five WTA titles in a year. This contest promises to be an intriguing one, because it will see the aggressive baseline player (Svitolina) go against the counterpuncher (Wozniacki). A lot will depend on how both players are feeling going into the match, and how confident they will both be of their chances.
With plenty more tennis to be played, the competition is still wide open, and every player will want to get off to the best possible start. The round robin format of the early draws means that players could also have a chance to resuscitate their chances of claiming the WTA Finals title (and hefty $7 million paychek) even if they lose their first match. This means that we should be in for some fabulous contests right until the end of the tournament. What more can a tennis fan wish for?