Garbine Muguruza in action against Elise Mertens during their semi-final match of the Dubai Tennis Championships on Friday. Supplied
Amir Naqvi, Sports Editor
Garbine Muguruza overcame Elise Mertens’ spirited late challenge to reach the final of the Dubai Tennis Championships final on Friday.
The world No.16 from Spain required seven match points to down Mertens 6-4, 7-6 (7/5) at the Centre Court and make her first final in Dubai.
A two-time Grand Slam winner and 9th seed here, Muguruza, who won her last title in Monterrey 2019, took more than two hours to battle past her Belgian rival.
With this win, Muguruza has now reached the final of three of the five tournaments she contested in 2021 including Yarra Valley Classic and Qatar Open last week. She lost to Petra Kvitova in the Doha final.
Muguruza also created history as she became the first Spanish woman to reach the final in the 21 years of the WTA event in Dubai.
“I am very excited, I think it’s great always to be in the final and to have these opportunities of holding the trophies. It’s been a tough tournament here, many matches, and I am just very excited to be able to have the last one tomorrow,” said the former world No.1.
Both Mertens and Muguruza traded breaks early but finally the Spaniard managed to move ahead 4-1. Refusing to give up easily, the world No.18 took advantage of the double fault of Muguruza and later broke serve.
Contesting her third semi-final in Dubai, Muguruza responded immediately and won the next two games to take the first set 6-4.
In the closely contested second set, Mertens staved off three break points and made Muguruza battle hard for points. Displaying perfect backhands and movement on the court, the 2017 Wimbledon winner broke her opponent to take a 5-3 lead.
Muguruza was serving to close the match but Mertens saved a match point and later broke the former to narrow her deficit to 4-5.
She saved three more match points in the next game and with the help of another break took a 6-5 lead.
Mertens failed to serve out the set and the match went to a tiebreak. Muguruza went up 6-3 in the breaker and finally wrapped up the duel by winning on her seventh match point.
“It took me quite a few match points to close the match. She is a very talented player, always gives you an extra ball back. I’m just happy I could close it in two sets,” said the 27-year-old.
“You have to be all the time concentrated, if not, the opponent will come back and take the advantage, even if I was 5-3 up and had match points, I didn’t lose focus, even if I couldn’t close it there, I just kept looking forward for the next opportunity,” said the 2016 French Open winner.
Mertens considered she had played a good match but that she didn’t have enough to overcome an excellent opponent.
“I tried to stay in the match,” said Mertens. “She’s a very powerful player and I tried to get as many balls back as I could. I’m pretty happy with the level I played at. She’s a very dominant player, very consistent too. She’s a tough opponent.”
In the other semi-final, Czech Republic’s Barbora Krejcikova advanced to her first WTA 1000 final after beating Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann 7-5, 6-2.
The Czech, a two-time Grand Slam doubles winner, made her singles debut in Dubai and took one hour and 37 minutes to clash with Muguruza for her first career title on Saturday.
Krejcikova, who has yet to drop a set in the tournament, saved 10 of 11 break points during the match.
Teichmann offered a strong challenge, holding two set points at 5-4, but Krejcikova not only fought off the threat but broke to lead 6-5 and went on to claim the opening set. The second set too was keenly contested, with Krejcikova saving two break points when serving at 5-2 before winning on her third match point.
“I actually cannot wait. I’m just looking forward so much to play her (Muguruza). She’s such a good player, she’s already a legend, all the respect to her,” said Krejcikova during an on court interview.
World No.63 Krejcikova is now the lowest-ranked singles finalist in the tournament’s history. The previous lowest-ranked finalist was World No.58 Virginie Razzano in 2009.
Meanwhile, Chinese duo Xu Yifan and Yang Zhaoxuan beat No.5 seeds Timea Babos and Veronika Kudermetova 6-3, 7-5 to reach the doubles final.
Yang will be looking to claim the Dubai trophy for the second time after winning here in 2018 alongside Chan Hao-Ching.
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