HIGHLIGHTS: Pliskova topples Muguruza in a round-robin classic

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Karolina Pliskova (1-0) vs. Anett Kontaveit (1-0), Group Teotihuacán

Pliskova has conceded just one set in the seven she’s played against Kontaveit in their first three meetings, but the setting coming into Friday’s encounter almost requires the past to be completely discarded. For one, Kontaveit had just one WTA title to her name when the two last squared off, in August 2019. She’s raised four trophies since August, has won 27 of her last 29 clashes—with a current 11-match win streak—and recently reversed a 0-3 head-to-head against Simona Halep.

Kontaveit’s WTA Finals debut went as well as she could have hoped, needing 75 minutes to dispatch No. 2 seed Barbora Krejcikova. What would help Kontaveit’s cause in rewriting history against Pliskova is building a one-set lead. She’s hasn't managed to do this once against the Czech, and Kontaveit has proven to be a tough out this season when she does, owning a 40-2 record with the first set in hand.

Pliskova’s opening round-robin contest was a stark contrast, one that required her to stave off Garbiñe Muguruza after the Spaniard served with a 5-4 advantage in a final-set tiebreaker. The third seed has reached the semifinals on her last three appearances at the tour's season finale, and never lost to an Estonian opponent (7-0) at the tour level.

Two of Pliskova's wins in the pair's series occurred on outdoor hard courts.

Two of Pliskova's wins in the pair's series occurred on outdoor hard courts.

Speaking from her past WTA Finals experiences, Pliskova said, “It's like, okay, you have at least that one win, there's not such a pressure that you need to win every other match.”

Pay attention to the serve in this matchup: both players fired eight aces in their opening wins, but Pliskova donated nine double faults to just two from Kontaveit, who also didn’t face a break point. “The tennis is pretty fast here, so it was important to make a first serve,” she said afterwards.

The No. 8 seed also had the benefit of playing during the day session on Wednesday, and with the peculiar requirement of competing at an elevation exceeding 5,000 feet, every little advantage counts. A straight-set win will send Kontaveit through to the semifinals.

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Barbora Krejcikova (0-1) vs. Garbiñe Muguruza (0-1), Group Teotihuacán

The last time these two faced off, things didn’t end well. At the US Open, Muguruza erased a 4-0 deficit in the second set to move ahead 6-5. Krejcikova then took a medical timeout, came back to win the next seven points, and soon closed the door in a tiebreaker. At the net, Muguruza called the 2021 Roland Garros champion “so unprofessional”—an experience that left Krejcikova “humiliated” after reaching the quarterfinals.

That victory for Krejcikova was her second in as many events over the two-time major winner, having also prevailed in the round of 16 at Cincinnati. The ball may not be in her court this time however, for the No. 2 seed is the only one of the eight singles competitors to travel here after competing at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals last week in Prague.

Before Krejcikova swept their two clashes in the U.S., Muguruza triumphed over the Czech at March's Dubai final.

Before Krejcikova swept their two clashes in the U.S., Muguruza triumphed over the Czech at March's Dubai final.

With significantly less time to adjust to the altitude and a body unaccustomed to playing more than 100 matches over the course of a year when her doubles successes are factored in, how much Krejcikova has left to give is a curious question mark. An extra match alongside partner Katerina Siniakova Thursday evening could provide useful intel on facing Muguruza at night, or it could deplete her further.

“I've been feeling worse during the season, so I think I'm handling the physical side quite well,” Krejcikova asserts.

Look for the No. 6 seed to come swinging—Muguruza will want to get out in front early after one-set deficits proved to be too much to overcome in her last two battles with the 25-year-old. Drawing from those around her will also be a source of inspiration.

“I loved the crowd. Even though I suffered during this match (against Pliskova), I also felt very energized and motivated to play in Mexico,” Muguruza said.

“The round robin keeps going on.”