Anett Kontaveit, Karolina Pliskova win opening matches at WTA Finals

Karolina Pliskova overcame a slow start before defeating Garbiñe Muguruza 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (6) on Wednesday in her opening match at the WTA Finals.

In a contest between two former No. 1-ranked players, the third-seeded Pliskova struggled early adjusting to the nearly 5,000-feet altitude of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city.

Pliskova is playing the WTA Finals for the fifth time, having reached the semifinals in 2018 and ’19. The 2020 tournament was canceled.

She didn’t win any titles in 2021 but kept a high ranking by reaching the finals at Wimbledon and Montreal, and the semifinals at Cincinnati.

Pliskova now has a 9-2 record versus former Wimbledon and French Open champion Muguruza, who won the Chicago and Dubai titles this year and is making her fourth appearance at the season-ending event.

Muguruza dropped her opening service game but then won four consecutive games to take a 4-2 lead and eventually clinched the first set in 38 minutes. Pliskova settled down in the second, breaking Muguruza’s serve in the second and eighth games to level the match.

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The third set lasted more than an hour, with Muguruza saving three match points to force a tiebreaker, and another in the tiebreaker before Pliskova sealed the win.

Earlier, Anett Kontaveit extended her hot streak with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over second-seeded Barbora Krejcikova.

Kontaveit had early breaks in both sets to beat the French Open champion in just 75 minutes for her 11th consecutive victory.

Kontaveit has won 27 of her last 29 matches, which include her title run at Ostrava where she beat Paula Badosa and Maria Sakkari, both of whom are competing here.

“I think throughout my career, I’ve been in sort of top 30 for a lot of years,” Kontaveit said. “During the summer I was on a bit of a losing streak, then I started working with Dmitry (Tursunov) and was really hoping to get a few wins. I managed to win Cleveland, then it just sort of started rolling from there”.

Tursunov a former world No. 20, started working with Kontaveit at the Cincinnati Masters, where the 25-year-old Estonian lost in the first round. Since then, Kontaveit has soared from No. 30 into the top 10.

After top-ranked Ash Barty of Australia opted not to defend the title because of travel restrictions in her country, Kontaveit edged out Ons Jabeur for the last spot in the season-ending championship by beating Simona Halep in the final of the Transylvania Open.

“I’ve been believing in myself a little bit more, and the game definitely has clicked from just getting more wins and playing a lot of tennis and really feeling comfortable,” Kontaveit said.

Krejcikova, the only reigning major winner in the field, started the year ranked 65th but captured three titles to qualify for the WTA Finals.

“It’s just difficult because a couple days ago I was actually playing in Europe, now I’m here,” Krejcikova said. “It’s really, really, really difficult.”

In doubles, the Japanese pair of Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara had a 6-0, 6-4 win over Darija Jurak and Andreja Klepac.

The tournament, which was canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is played in a round-robin format.

The event has a total prize pool of $5 million and is being played at the Akron Tennis Stadium in Zapopan, a suburb of Guadalajara.

The WTA Finals are being played in Guadalajara for this year only, with the event scheduled to return to Shenzhen, China in 2022.

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