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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, August 19, 2017

 
Garbine Muguruza

Garbine Muguruza stormed past world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova, 6-3, 6-2, into the Cincinnati final for the first time.

Photo credit: Western & Southern Open Facebook

Karolina Pliskova currently occupies the top spot.

Garbiñe Muguruza continues to show the jolting game to get there.

Watch: Tennis Ink

Muguruza broke serve four times powering past Pliskova, 6-3, 6-2, into the Cincinnati final for the first time.

A focused Muguruza avenged a 6-1, 6-3 setback to Pliskova into the 2016 Cincinnati semifinals.

It was the fourth-seeded Spaniard’s fourth win over a world No. 1 and snapped a six-match losing streak to the 2016 US Open finalist, including a 7-6, 7-6, setback in the Indian Wells quarterfinals in March.

“I lost to her so many times I figured out something was going wrong,” Muguruza told ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez afterward. “I knew that was I gonna die on the court if it was necessary. I feel good playing here with all of these incredible matches.”




Contesting her first career final on American soil, Muguruza will play either second-ranked Romanian Simona Halep or American wild card Sloane Stephens in tomorrow’s final. Halep, who has been within one win of the world No. 1 spot a few times this season, can became the 24th woman to ascend to the top spot if she takes the Cincinnati title.

Withstanding severe three-set tests from Madison Keys, in which she saved three match points, and two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova did not drain Muguruza’s legs or diminish her desire.

Instead, it infused her with self-belief.

“For sure, it helped me all these tough matches where I thought I was in the locker room with Madison Keys,” Muguruza said. “I don’t know, it gives me confidence, strength, fight for today.”

The Wimbledon winner came out cracking the ball with authority. Muguruza laced a forehand winner down the line for break point then unleashed her best weapon, the two-handed backhand crosscourt, breaking in the opening game.

Muguruza’s willingness to drive the ball down the line and take the first strike paid dividends. She won eight of nine serve points in extending the lead to 4-2.

The top seed was in a double break point bind in the seventh game, but stood tall coaxing a wild backhand and pounding a big serve to erase both break points and eventually hold for 3-4.

The 6-foot-1 Czech is the WTA ace leader, but Muguruza served with more menace in the opening set. She dotted the center strip with an ace to end the eighth game. Muguruza won 93 percent of her first-serve points and did not face a break point.

Dialed in with the down the line drive, Muguruza belted a backhand return down the line breaking again at 15 to seal the first set in 36 minutes.

Playing with kinesiology tape lining her left thigh, Muguruza moved fluidly taking the short preparation steps to maintain balance between her body and the ball. The 23-year-old Spaniard’s serving accuracy subsided at the start of the second set, but she staved off three break points to earn a hard-fought hold.

Navigating a challenging seven-minute hold, Muguruza went up 2-1.

A somewhat surprising aspect of this match was Muguruza damaging the Pliskova forehand, which is one of the best in the sport. Pliskova mis-hit a forehand to face double break point.




Turning her shoulders and hips into her shot, Muguruza whipped her 14th winner—a short-angled backhand crosscourt—breaking for 4-2. Another errant forehand helped Muguruza confirm the break for 5-2.

In the eighth game, Pliskova relied on clutch serving to save four match points. Muguruza kept firing away from the baseline. Swatting a menacing forehand winner crosscourt, she gained a fifth match point.

This time, Pliskova sailed one final wild forehand as a smiling Muguruza moved on with her most dynamic match of the week.




The two-time Grand Slam champion will play for her fifth career title tomorrow. At this point, racking up wins rather than focusing on the pursuit of the top is driving the sixth-ranked Spaniard. 

"Definitely not thinking at all about number one because I don’t think it’s gonna help me; it’s gonna hold me back," Muguruza said. "I’m just happy I won and I'm into the final and that, I think, is gonna get me to number one if I can continue to play like that."


 

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