The glistening trophy is in sight.
Kontaveit and Muguruza poised for WTA Finals showdown
Both in blistering form, Anett Kontaveit and Garbiñe Muguruza are within reach of prestigious silverware at the WTA Finals in Mexico.
For Kontaveit, it’s all new ground, for Muguruza it’s a chance to return to prime time, to re-establish herself as the very best.
Estonian exceeding expectations
Throughout her debut at the WTA Finals world No.8 Kontaveit has repeated she never imagined qualifying for the prestigious season-ending tournament.
Four matches later and the 25-year-old has sent out a significant statement of intent. Kontaveit booked her final ticket with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 scoreboard in an edge-of-the-seat tussle with No.4 seed Maria Sakkari.
The Estonian rattled off 32 winners to post her tour-leading (level with Ons Jabeur) 48th win of the season, meaning she’s prevailed in 29 of her past 32 matches.
Kontaveit is simply crushing it.
“I still can’t quite believe it that I’m here… I think for me, I was the last one to qualify here. I don't really have anything to lose," Kontaveit declared in Mexico. "Everything that I'm doing here is a bonus for me.
"I'm really actually looking forward to the match. I hope I get to enjoy it as much as I can, take it all in, just realise what I've done in the last few months. This is the last big challenge that I have this year, so I'm really looking forward to it.”
That last challenge is facing two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza (2-3 head-to-head). Although Kontaveit speaks of on-court freedom and surprise, the Estonian is fiercely determined to grasp this opportunity.
“It's my biggest final so far. I think I have a lot of self-belief and confidence. I'm ready for whatever comes,” stated Kontaveit, on the verge of her third successive title.
"I feel like the last few months have really showed me that I can play really well, I can beat great players consistently.
“When I came here, of course, I had nothing to lose. Every time I step on the court, I still think I can win the match, just do well."
This self-assurance has risen several notches in recent weeks, Kontaveit lifting the Kremlin Cup and Transylvania Open titles back-to-back. She swatted Muguruza aside 6-1, 6-1 en route to the silverware in Moscow, however the Spaniard halted Kontaveit’s 12-match winning streak 6-4, 6-4 in the group stages in Guadalajara.
Muguruza a match for anyone
Having been broken just four times all week in Mexico, Kontaveit will hope her serve holds firm to dictate in the final. She’ll need it as Muguruza is ready to pounce.
Ominously for Kontaveit, Muguruza went up a couple of gears on Tuesday night, relentless from start to finish with a 6-3, 6-3 passage past fellow Spaniard Paula Badosa.
Scorching serves, arrowed groundstrokes, the court coverage was all encompassing to reach the season-ending title bout for the first time.
"I think it's the best match that I played so far here in Guadalajara," said Muguruza, the first Spaniard to make the final since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario was runner-up in 1993 (the year Garbine was born!).
A major player, who has reached the summit of the sport, Muguruza is relishing the pressure cooker of being at the top table.
“Every time you have an important match, you feel your body, you feel you want it so much,” explained Muguruza.
“Maybe for some players it’s tough to sleep, for some players you feel your stomach might be close. Fortunately, I feel like I’ve been through so many tough and stressful moments playing Grand Slams and playing important matches that I’m not scared of it. I actually like it.
“You have to be like, `OK, you know what, I know how to handle. Let’s see how it goes.’ Have a kind of better mindset to face them.”
“Just a little bit more perspective, a little bit more experience and mature,” added the former world No.1.
“I think I was more ready to face the semi-finals than what I was in 2015. Saving the energy that I need for when I need it, being very smart about like, don’t be too emotional.”
The raucous Latino crowd will be urging Muguruza towards the title. This would mean a hell of a lot for the Spaniard.
“Probably once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me in my career to play a Masters in Mexico,” claimed Muguruza. “It’s a cocktail for me that’s super motivating.”