Garbine Muguruza had a heck of a challenge on her hands to start the Qatar Total Open Sunday night. In a near three-hour match, the Spaniard fought off troubles from her serve and a five-game slide from Daria Kasatkina to win 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 on centre court at the Khalifa International Tennis Complex.
The Spaniard looked to continue her improving game in her first match back in Qatar in two years. With a fifth meeting against the Russian, she hoped to gain back the lead in their series with one another and avoid another drawn-out match. Their last three spanned more than two hours with sets going deep into tiebreaks. As each held a win over the other on hard courts she hoped that her strong offense of late spells a better turnout to start the tournament.
The former World No.1 one took some time to seal her opening service game as Kasatkina fought to deuce, extending the game six minutes. In retaliation, Muguruza broke the Russian for a 2-0 lead that took less time to accomplish. Kasatkina again tested the game of her opponent that led the two to deuce with breakpoints in play. The 22-year-old produced two more against the Spaniard to break back.
Consolidating the break gave the Russian the lead and momentum that soon included a double break of the 11th seed. Muguruza broke back to level the score and made another lead change with her holding the seventh game. A big win in the eighth gave her a chance to close out the set early but Kasatkina had other plans. The 22-year-old broke back in the ninth and consolidated to even up at five-all.
A much-needed hold for Muguruza gave her leverage against her opponent that allowed her to coast with a break of serve in the 12th to finish the set in one hour and four minutes. Despite having 21 unforced errors that extended the match, her 17 winners to Kasatkina’s seven were the edge needed to be ahead in the match.
The Spaniard made sure to start the second set off right containing service which her opponent followed with thereafter. They continued service through four games but in the fifth, the competition became tight and crucial between the two. As Muguruza tried to hold serve at 40-30, Kasatkina rallied back on the next point to force deuce. That set up a long deuce draw that saw the 22-year-old gain five breaks points through six breaks but failed to secure any. After nine total breaks, the Spaniard closed out the longest game of the match with the 3-2 lead in her hands.
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Breaking Kasatkina only made her previous serve mean so much as the 11th seed went on to make it 5-2. The 22-year-old somehow found a way to hold Muguruza off and live another game but with the Spaniard on serve, she had to find another moment to extend. Muguruza made enough mistakes on serve that included a double fault to force deuce for the Russian. Saving two games, Kasatkina tried to add a third straight and succeeded with a hold to level at five apiece.
With the comeback completed, Kasatkina added another break for good measure giving her the 6-5 edge on Muguruza. With balls in hand to serve for the set in the 12, Kasatkina reached two set points and held onto one that ended the second in one hour and eight minutes.
With five consecutive losses, Muguruza knew that she couldn’t afford to lose another. Holding serve in the first saw her paint the line three times with one of them coming off for an ace. A break made it 2-0 for the 11th seed before Kasatkina got on the board with a break back. A conference with her coach Carlos Martinez was in the works where he told her to enjoy playing her game which affected the former world number one.
Her grip on Muguruza faded away as the Spaniard earned another break for a 3-1 lead trying to jump out to a bigger margin. Kasatkina refused to let that happen and broke back once more to stay in touch. The 26-year-old regained the two-game lead on the Russian, but still had problems with her serve that produced a break. Muguruza also continued the break of her opponent that set up another shot at winning the match. Using plenty of focus on serve, the Spaniard managed to hold two match points in the ninth to end a long night that took 2 hours and 48 minutes.