Garbine Muguruza needed seven match points to overcome a stubborn Elise Mertens and advance to her third final of the season, and second in as many weeks, in Dubai on Friday.
The ninth-seeded Spaniard, who is searching for a first title since Monterrey in 2019, has now reached the championship match at three of the five tournaments she contested in 2021.
Her 6-4, 7-6 (7/5) success over Mertens takes her tour-leading match-wins tally this year to 17 and she’ll be bidding for a maiden Dubai crown when she faces either Jil Teichmann or Barbora Krejcikova in the final on Saturday.
“I’m very excited, I think it’s great always to be in the final and to have these opportunities of holding the trophies. It’s been a tough tournament here, many matches, and I’m just very excited to be able to have the last one tomorrow,” said the two-time Grand Slam champion.
A nervy start from both saw Mertens and Muguruza trade breaks early on but it was the Spaniard who steadied the ship first to lead 4-1.
The Belgian had saved three match points in the previous round against Jessica Pegula and wasn’t going to go down without a fight. With Muguruza serving for the opening set, the 10th seed capitalised on a double fault from her opponent and broke serve with a passing shot that stumped Muguruza at the net.
The comeback attempt was halted in the very next game however as Muguruza slammed a backhand down the line to secure the set on the 52-minute mark.
Mertens used her incredible variety to stave off three break points and hold for 1-1 in the second set and they remained neck and neck until Muguruza created an opening to inch ahead 5-3.
That was never going to be enough against a fighter like Mertens, who saved a match point as Muguruza was serving for a place in the final and broke to narrow her deficit to 4-5. Mixing the pace with high balls and slices, Mertens saved three more match points in the next game and broke the Muguruza serve to lead 6-5.
Mertens’ run of games stopped at three in a row as she failed to serve out the set and the duel fittingly went to a tiebreak. The former world No.1 went up 6-3 in the breaker and finally closed out the win on her seventh match point with some brave play at the net.
“It took me quite a few match points to close the match. She is a very talented player, always gives you an extra ball back. I’m just happy I could close it in two sets,” said the 27-year-old Muguruza.
“You have to be all the time concentrated, if not, the opponent will come back and take the advantage, even if I was 5-3 up and had match points, I didn’t lose the focus, even if I couldn’t close it there, I just kept looking forward for the next opportunity.”