Saturday, August 19, 2017

Tomorrow's Cincinnati final: featuring Halep, Muguruza and Pressure

"Pressure is a pain," Garbine Muguruza said when asked to talk about how she's handling it these days. She went on to say that it's also a good thing because it involves hope. Both finalists at the 2017 Western & Southern Open know something about both hope and pressure, and both factors will play a role in tomorrow's final.

After she won the French Open last year, Muguruza obviously had to struggle with the pressure of having won a major, and she's been quite open about it. But after this year's Wimbledon win, the poised Spaniard settled into her celebrity, and made a commitment not to be a victim of it. This week in Cincinnati, Muguruza's comfort level has been obvious. She's been confident and fluid, and her star power has been evident at all times.

Halep, on the other hand--despite what she might say--rarely appears to be comfortable on a consistent basis. A perfectionist who is hard on herself and always striving to meet the expectations of her native Romania, the world number 2 is known to stray far too close to the Cliffs of Simona, as The Backspinner would say. She made a brief venture there yesterday, in her quarterfinal match against Jo Konta, but pulled herself back before something really perilous occurred.

Now that Karolina Pliskova is out of the tournament, Halep can succeed her as number 1 in the world--if she wins the final tomrrow. Pressure? Halep wants the ranking, we know that. I have to wonder, though: Would it be easier for her to enter the U.S. Open without being nunber 1 in the world?

None of us knows the internal pressure felt by Muguruza, but there are a couple of external factors (other than the obvious one of wanting to win the tournament) that come to mind: As the new Wimbledon champion and the holder of two major titles, Muguruza is "expected" to win. Also, she has never won a tournament in the U.S.; indeed, this is the first time she has reached a final in this country.

Both Muguruza and Halep had byes in the first round. To get to the final, 4th seed Muguruza defeated Beatriz Haddad Maia, 16th seed Madison Keys, 8th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova (in one of the best match of the tournament), and top seed Pliskova. 2nd seed Halep defeated Taylor Townsend, 15th seed Anastasija Sevastova, 7th seed Jo Konta, and wild card Sloane Stephens.

No matter who wins tomorrow's match, both women are clear contenders to take the U.S. Open title, as is Karolina Pliskova. And the fans in Cincinnati can expect a high quality final.

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