In 2021, Mexican city Guadalajara agreed at short notice to host the WTA Finals, after Shenzhen withdrew due to Chinese pandemic travel restrictions. The event was incredibly successful with the players who appreciated the enthusiastic crowds.
The reward for the efforts of tournament organisers, father and son team Gustavo Santoscoy and Gustavo Jnr, was a WTA 1000 event this year, the Guadalajara Open Akron.
The start of play for the first evening was delayed by 90 minutes for perhaps the most unusual reason in tennis history.
A swarm of bees attached itself to the umpire’s chair prior to the expected match between Bernarda Pera and 16th seed Petra Kvitová.
A beekeeper had to be called to remove them. After winning 6-3 7-5 Kvitová said, “I’ve never experienced this…so I started a little bit slowly then I came back to it and started to play better.”
The surprise of the 64 player singles draw was Victoria Azarenka, who made her first semi final of the year. Unseeded, she beat lucky loser Elina Avanesyan; number 1 seed Paula Badosa who retired after losing the first set due to breathing problem; and 13th seed Madison Keys before overcoming 5th seed Coco Gauff 7-6 4-6 6-3 in the quarter finals.
Despite some brilliant returning by Gauff, Azarenka was the steadier player for the 2 hours, 44 minutes. Gauff hit twice as many winners but also twice as many unforced errors.
Azarenka explained, “I had quite a few [opportunities] and I couldn’t convert them so I tried to just stay consistent and to look for another one, and another one, and not really get down on myself.”
She was stopped in the semis by eventual tournament winner Jessica Pegula, 7-6(3) 6-1.
Pegula had been fortunate to get past Elena Rybakina in Round 2, having to save three match points.
She was seeded 3 and played 4th seed Maria Sakkari in the final. Ranked world 5 and 6 respectively, the final was a battle for who would become the new world number 3. For Pegula, she would also equal her doubles ranking of 3.
Sakkari started the final day by having to play the second set of her semi against rising Czech player Marie Bouzková, after play couldn’t be resumed following a rain delay.
The Greek won a close match across the two days 7-5, 6-4.
Perhaps Sakkari didn’t have enough time to adjust before the final, which Pegula won 2 and 3. Certainly, Pegula’s serving was extraordinary. She won 91% of points on her first serve in the first set and was still sitting at 79% at the end of the match.
Sakkari fought hard but made 25 unforced errors throughout the final. She is now 1-6 in WTA finals, having won her only title in 2019.
As always, she was gracious in defeat. After embracing her opponent warmly at the net, she told her “We’re not the Next Gen anymore but we still have a lot of years in front of us…I’ll see you next week.” (Both finalists were heading to Fort Worth, Texas, for the WTA Finals.)
Accepting the winner’s trophy The Tree of Life, made out of pure Mexican silver, an suddenly emotional Pegula dedicated it to her mum Kim, who had a health scare this year.
Of her first trip to Mexico, she said, “I almost didn’t come here because I don’t like playing in altitude. I definitely changed that this week.”
The finalists met again at the WTA finals in Fort Worth, Texas. Sakkari won their round 7-6(6) 7-6(4) and made the semis, losing 3 and 2 to eventual champion Caroline Garcia.
2021 WTA Finals Doubles champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic were upset for this year’s title by Veronika Kudermetova and Elise Mertens.
Title photo of Jessica Pegula playing Elena Rybakina at the Guadalajara Open Akron by Rob Prange