MATCH POINT: Muguruza ends Badosa's season

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“I’ll always be king of pain,” Sting once sang for The Police. As she walked off the court in Guadalajara on Tuesday, Garbiñe Muguruza might have been singing the same tune, with a slightly different revised of lyrics.

“I’ll always be queen of Spain” would have been an appropriate sentiment for her 6-3, 6-3 win over countrywoman Paula Badosa in their first-ever meeting. Muguruza led the whole way, saved the three break points she faced, and closed the match out in 85 convincing minutes. In the process, the 28-year-old Muguruza put a halt to her 24-year-old opponent’s recent hot streak. Over the last month, Badosa had won her biggest career title, in Indian Wells, qualified for her first WTA Finals, and made the semifinals after straight-set wins over Aryna Sabalenka and Maria Sakkari. For a Finals rookie, Badosa looked as poised as anyone in the tournament.

But even in this global game of individuals, there’s still something different about playing a compatriot, especially one you’ve watched win Grand Slam titles in the past. Badosa was edgy, nervy, and unsettled from the start on Tuesday. She was broken in the third game when she hit a routine backhand long, and broken again in the ninth game when Muguruza rifled a forehand past her at the baseline. In between sets, Badosa could be seen slapping herself on the cheek and gesturing toward her player box in frustration. After months of unflappability, she looked flappable again.

The only other Spaniard to reach the title match at the WTA Finals is Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, who finished runner-up in 1993.

The only other Spaniard to reach the title match at the WTA Finals is Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, who finished runner-up in 1993.

Instead it was Muguruza who calmly navigated her way through any rough waters she faced. She made just 56 percent of her first serves, but she won 81 percent of those points. She was quick to jump on any short ball from Badosa and direct it into the corners. She hit her often-erratic forehand well from start to finish. Most important, she played better when the score got tighter.

Serving at 2-0 in the second set, Muguruza went down 0-40 and showed some signs of anxiety for the first time. Up a set and a break, she could see the finish line, and it may have briefly unnerved her. But not for long: She saved the first break point with a strong backhand up the middle; the second with a forehand crosscourt; and the third with another good backhand. Something similar happened when Muguruza served for the match at 5-3. After starting with a backhand miss and a double fault, Muguruza held firm and won the next four points for the match.

Muguruza has responded to the vocal crowd support she has received during her night matches this week. Today’s semifinal was played in the afternoon, and the scene wasn’t quite as raucous, but her momentum and good form seem to be locked in now. She’s playing with the same kind of aggression and swagger that she had at the start of 2021, and this win guarantees she’ll finish the year No. 3—and as the top-ranked woman in Spain again. More important, for now, it also gives Muguruza a shot at her first WTA Finals title.