Former world No. 1 Garbiñe Muguruza continued her near-perfect start to the 2021 season with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Irina-Camelia Begu as main draw action got underway in earnest at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Muguruza shook off a runner-up finish to Petra Kvitova at the Qatar Total Open—her second final of the year—and rallied from 5-3 down in the second set to defeat the Romanian in one hour and 38 minutes on Center Court.
"It was definitely a challenge because Doha and Dubai are very different tournaments and have different conditions," she said in her post-match press conference. "I'm just happy that I could fight as much as I could and closed out the match in two sets—especially playing a qualifier who got to have extra time on these courts. I only arrived yesterday, so it was a big challenge, but I'm happy I made it and feel like I'm getting into the tournament."
The Mugu-renaissance began in Australia and has continued in the Middle East, where the Spaniard has only lost to the eventual champion in her last three tournaments.
"I've played the Middle East swing for many years, and have played well here before. Still, it's a rush from one tournament to the other, and even if you do well, you don't have time to celebrate. Even if you win Doha or make the final, or even just have a good tournament, there's still the rush to Dubai and to switch the brain! It's a different ball, surface, even temperature, so it's just something that I try to take as a challenge and opportunity because if not, it can be tough."
Playing Begu for the first time since 2016—when they split two three-set matches—the two-time Grand Slam champion made the most of a quick turn-around from Doha and enjoyed a strong start, racing ahead 3-0 and withstood Begu’s subsequent surge to serve out the opening set.
Muguruza improved to 13-4 in 2021, losing her last three matches to the tournament's eventual champion (Getty Images)
The second set played out in reverse as Begu ended up the first to break serve, and quickly moved ahead 5-3 with hopes of forcing a deciding set.
"We've trained together, so we know each other's games. Honestly, I was most happy that I stayed strong, mentally, because I didn't feel that strong tennistically! I gave her a big battle, and in the important moments, I tried to be very focused, smart, and efficient."
Muguruza responded in dominant fashion, reeling off the final four games to secure victory with a thudding forehand winner.
In all, she struck 23 winners to 32 unforced errors, and while Begu made fewer errors she also hit far fewer winners, ending the match with a -11 differential and broke serve three times to Muguruza’s five.
Up next for the No. 9 seed is American Amanda Anisimova, who was kept from playing the Australian Open after testing positive for COVID-19 in Abu Dhabi. Anisimova swept aside 2016 US Open quarterfinalist Ana Konjuh, who herself is on the comeback trail after multiple elbow surgeries, 6-2, 6-2, to book her first meeting with Muguruza.
"I'll try to look at the player, see her game. I've seen her play before, and almost no one is unknown at this point, so I'm looking forward to it."
Caroline Garcia shook off early frustration to survive Angelique Kerber in three sets (Getty Images)
Of the six seeds also in action on Monday, five advanced as only No. 13 seed Petra Martic fell to former Top 10 star Kristina Mladenovic, 7-6(2), 6-4. Martic had never lost to Mladenovic in five previous encounters—including four in 2019—but the Frenchwoman, fresh off a quarterfinal run at the Open 6ème Sens Métropole de Lyon, proved too strong after a tight first set.
Madison Keys and Marketa Vondrousova, seeded No. 11 and No. 12, respectively, each advanced in straight sets, and will next play wildcards Anastasia Potapova and Coco Gauff.
In an intriguing clash between unseeded former Top 4 players, Caroline Garcia roared back from a set down to defeat three-time major champion Angelique Kerber, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. Garcia will next face Roland Garros quarterfinalist Martina Trevisan, who got into the main draw after Victoria Azarenka withdrew due to the back injury that forced her out of the Doha semifinals.