Former world No. 1 Garbiñe Muguruza treated fans to a tense ending as she closed out No. 10 seed Elise Mertens, 6-4, 7-6 (5), needing seven match points to advance into her third WTA final in five events at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship.

"I'm very motivated," Muguruza said in her post-match press conference. "I've been working hard, feeling good, and have a good team around me. This is a good moment in my career, at my age, with my knowledge, and the things I've achieved. I don't think I have to prove anything anymore, having won Grand Slams and been No. 1. All of those questions you ask yourself at 21 years old are gone already, and there's not that pressure anymore. I've done it, and now I want to do it again."

Muguruza served for the match and held four match points before Mertens forced a second set tie-break. The Spaniard let out an exasperated sigh as it took an overhead to finally clinch victory after two hours and six minutes on Center Court.

"I felt she was very good on defense, and especially on match points, she brought her magic with her shots, the slice, and tricky balls. I didn't think I played any of the match points badly; they were just some tough points that weren't going my way. Still, I knew I was playing well and that I would convert, so I didn't lose concentration or get too irritated."

The pair last played back at the 2016 US Open, where Muguruza rallied from a set down to defeat the Belgian in what was her Grand Slam main draw debut.

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Muguruza halts Mertens surge to reach Dubai final, Krejcikova next

Muguruza halts Mertens surge to reach Dubai final, Krejcikova next

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Broken to kick off Friday’s clash, the No. 9 seed, who reached the Qatar Total Open final last week and has lost to the eventual champion in all but one of her 2021 appearances, quickly reversed the deficit to race through the next four games.

"Physically, you feel the number of matches, but this is how I want to feel. I want to feel tired, but excited to be playing finals. You can see the positives even while you're feeling your legs, the heat, or how many matches you've played in a row, but I've worked to be in these situations."

Impressive as Muguruza’s start to the season has been, Mertens has been on a similar upward trajectory since the tour’s lockdown ended last summer, reaching the US Open quarterfinals and beginning the season with a sixth career title at the Gippsland Trophy. In Dubai, she outlasted in-form Americans Shelby Rogers and Jessica Pegula en route to the semifinals, winning the final 10 games against the latter after trailing three match points.

The 25-year-old foreshadowed her second-set fightback when Muguruza served at 5-3, saving a set point with an audacious passion shot, but the two-time Grand Slam champion—who made a comeback of her own in the quarterfinals, defeating Aryna Sabalenka from a set and a break down—held firm and broke in the following game to take the opening set.

Muguruza halts Mertens surge to reach Dubai final, Krejcikova next

Muguruza halts Mertens surge to reach Dubai final, Krejcikova next

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Down by the same score-line in the second, Mertens, who won her second women's doubles Grand Slam title with Sabalenka at the Australian Open, saved the first of seven match points after an exhausting rally, reabsorbing Muguruza’s pace for a scintillating forehand winner. She saved three more match points on her own serve and won a third straight game to find herself serving for a deciding set.

Muguruza regrouped and won five straight points in the ensuing Sudden Death to earn three more match points. Mertens saved the first two but Muguruza would not be denied, approaching the net to finish off the Belgian to reach her second final of the Middle East swing.

"It was emotional because after five or six match points, I felt like I was playing well, but she was just bringing her best shots at the right times. I was like, 'Man, I have to close it out here,' so I was relieved to close it out in two sets, because it was a physical match, and I could feel that, if she won the second set, she would be even more pumped for the third. She also saved some match points yesterday, so she was hanging in there. I wasn't losing my concentration either, and was just looking for the right shots.

"I stopped thinking about how many match points, and decided I would play them exactly how I wanted to play. If they didn't go my way, at least I did what I wanted to do. Even if it took, I would say, too many match points, I was convinced that was the only way I could win the match. Sometimes you close it out on the first match point, and everyone's happy, but other times it takes more."

Muguruza halts Mertens surge to reach Dubai final, Krejcikova next

Muguruza halts Mertens surge to reach Dubai final, Krejcikova next

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Standing between the Spaniard and a long-awaited first title of 2021 will be surprise finalist former WTA doubles No. 1 Barbora Krejcikova, who took out surging Swiss Jil Teichmann, 7-5, 6-2. In what will be the biggest singles final of her career, Krejcikova, who made the fourth round of Roland Garros last fall, beat Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova and Anastasia Potapova earlier in the week before overpowering Teichmann in a dramatic final game that required three match points.

Muguruza and Krejecikova will face off for the first time in Saturday's final.

"I feel like holding a champion's trophy is everyone's objective," Muguruza said. "For me, we work hard to be able to play finals, but it's never easy to go out and win tournaments. I'm very excited just to be in these circumstances, and maybe the recent finals I've played haven't gone my way, but at some point, they will, and to be able to be there is a sign that you're playing well. That's where I want to be, bring my best tennis, and hopefully get a trophy!"

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Muguruza halts Mertens surge to reach Dubai final, Krejcikova next

Muguruza halts Mertens surge to reach Dubai final, Krejcikova next