Garbiñe Muguruza and Svetlana Kuznetsova played out a thriller in the quarterfinals of the Western and Southern Open, with the Wimbledon champion continuing her good win with the incredible win over the Russian veteran. Labeled as one of the best matches in 2017, Kuznetsova recovered from a huge deficit and sent the match into a deciding set before Muguruza stepped up to the occasion and sealed the tough win after two hours and 48-minutes of play.
Muguruza strolls to take the first set
Kuznetsova started the match on the worst possible note, with the sun possibly proving to be a huge obstacle as the Russian was unable to fend off Muguruza’s merciless returns, allowing the Spaniard to grab the opening break. The variety in Kuznetsova’s game allowed her to have a chance to break straight back, but Muguruza held firm and served a couple of crucial aces at deuce, prevailing in the lengthy 20-points game to consolidate the break.
The Russian continued to struggle on her serve, with the kick not working well and her footwork being messy in the early stages of the match. Despite producing some great backhands, Kuznetsova soon trailed by a double-break deficit as the first set slowly slipped out of her hands. However, she stuck to her tactics, using her forehand to attack the backhands of Muguruza, and immediately retrieved one of the breaks back as the Spaniard threw in a double fault on break point.
The scores were kept tight with Kuznetsova earning the golden opportunity to return level. The sixth game was another marathon — just like the match itself — and Kuznetsova earned four chances to break back. The Russian was too passive on the crucial points which allowed Muguruza to charge towards the net, and each time it was the Spaniard who finished the points off with a volley winner to claim the tight hold which impressively featured nine deuces.
Kuznetsova ran out of steam after missing out on her opportunities — six break points in total — before Muguruza grew in confidence each time after prevailing in the marathon games. The Spaniard, who owned a 4-1 head-to-head record over Kuznetsova coming into this encounter, rattled off 11 of the last 12 points to seal the first set 6-2 after an incredible 54 minutes.
Kuznetsova produces improbable comeback
The unforced errors kept coming from Kuznetsova as she was broken in the first game of the second set, with Muguruza edging closer to the win. Just when the Spaniard looked comfortable with the lead, the Russian never looked like she was giving up despite the scores not going in her favour.
Kuznetsova was hanging on the cliff when Muguruza got to deuce in the third game with a huge risk of a double-break deficit, but the veteran continued to give it her all, which had its returns after she came out of nowhere to level the scores at 3-3 as she broke serve for the first time in the match. It marked the start of a series of service breaks before Kuznetsova regained her composure and held from 15-30 down to prevent Muguruza from earning the chance to serve out the match.
The Russian reflected her fighting spirit when she stood firm despite facing the incoming onslaught of Muguruza’s powerful shots, and Kuznetsova soon led 6-5 being just a game away from winning the second set. Serving to force a tiebreak, the pressure ultimately got to the Spaniard as she allowed Kuznetsova to dictate play and the eighth seed unexpectedly stole the second set 7-5 with a powerful return winner.
Muguruza sneaks through
Muguruza’s champion mentality clearly reflected when she overcame the disappointment of losing the second set and broke in the opening game of the decider. The soaring temperatures and heat certainly did not help, but it was the 32-year-old who surprisingly broke straight back from 30-0 down. From there onwards, Kuznetsova looked like she was the better player, while Muguruza looked a little under the weather. Nonetheless, the Spaniard was still fighting and found a way to escape from trouble on her serve on multiple occasions.
The first eye-catching game of the final set came deep inside the decider, with Kuznetsova serving at 4-4. The ninth game was crucial — if the Russian held serve she’d be one game away from the win; if Muguruza broke serve she’d serve for the match — and the pressure certainly weighed on Kuznetsova’s shoulders as she conceded a break point. However, years of experience seemed to have its value as the Russian came up with an unbelievable backhand down-the-line winner despite Muguruza being on the offense throughout the rally. Kuznetsova eventually had the last laugh in this crucial game.
A similar game followed five minutes later, with Kuznetsova’s inconsistency troubling her once more. This time, she wasted two game points and saved two break points with two fantastic baseline winners. However, Muguruza was third-time lucky as Kuznetsova sent a backhand wide, finally earning the golden opportunity to serve out the match. It seemed to be all but over when the Spaniard led 40-0 and owned triple match points, but her errors gave Kuznetsova a way back as the Russian got back to deuce after prevailing in an incredible point. However, Muguruza’s aggression eventually got her the win after a marathon 170 minutes in front of a packed crowd.
Reaction from the victor
Obviously, Muguruza would be pleased with her terrific performance which got her through against the inspired Kuznetsova, “I'm happy the way I'm playing and the way I'm going through these tough matches, because, you know, I've got to dig in and somehow win them.” The third set featured the Spaniard having to get herself out of trouble occasionally, but she tried to be “brave” and “aggressive”, which was the crucial factors for her win. She was happy with how she stayed calm throughout the match and did not let loose despite losing the second set.
Muguruza was also full of praise for her opponent, “Well, I think it was probably one of the best matches of the year, you know, because I felt like we both played very well. Especially in that third set, you know, we were winning points and our serve was there,” mentioning that it was a relatively high-quality affair.
Aftermath: Muguruza goes on to claim the title
After this loss, Kuznetsova struggled through the rest of the year, having sustained a wrist injury at the US Open. The injury caused her to endure through her matches in pain and eventually withdrew from her last tournaments of the year before undergoing a surgery in November.
Meanwhile, it turned out that Muguruza would end the week as the champion in Cincinnati, having saved a match point against Madison Keys earlier in the week. This triumph was extremely crucial as it gave her enough points for a debut at the number one ranking after the US Open, being the first Spanish since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario to have the same achievement. However, she ended the year as the world number two, lagging behind new top-ranked player Simona Halep by just 40 points.