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Muguruza’s Miami arrival

Spanish newcomer claims third top-100 victim at first event

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Garbiñe Muguruza Blanco of Spain in action against Vera Zvonareva at the Sony Ericsson Open. AFP

It’s not often that Spanish women’s tennis keeps the exploits of Rafa Nadal and the rest of the Armada off the back pages, but an 18-year-old Venezuelan-born Basque is doing just that. Shortly before Nadal grunted and grimaced his way to a straightforward 6-2, 6-2 win over Radek Stepanek on Sunday, Garbiñe Muguruza Blanco caused a third straight upset in only her first WTA-level tournament, defeating world number 26 Flavia Pennetta 6-2, 1-6, 7-6.

Muguruza, a wildcard at the Miami Masters, had previously knocked out 73-ranked Ayumi Morita in the first round, and then accounted for world number nine Vera Zvonareva in round two. Morita retired in the third set of Muguruza’s opener but Zvonareva was defeated on court in straight sets — the first time in two years a Spaniard had gotten the better of a top-10 player without injury stopping play.

“When you beat someone like Vera, you believe you can do it against other top players too,” the 18-year-old told the WTA website. “I felt nervous today, and Flavia was playing so well, but I did well on the important points at the end of the match. Now I’m feeling so happy, so happy.”

Against Pennetta, Muguruza recovered from a second set battering as the Italian veteran took control to force a tie-break in the third, the Spaniard eventually triumphing on match point four.

“Obviously there are many things she has to improve on,” said Xavi Budó, Muguruza’s coach at the Elitia academy in Barcelona. “But her competitiveness, her mental intensity and the fact she is clear she wants to be a tennis player gives us optimism about her present and her future.”

Currently ranked 208, Muguruza’s exploits in Miami, a Premier Mandatory WTA tournament, have already earned her 140 ranking points, which should see her rise about 50 places in the standing. In the meantime, the Spanish sensation faces a tough test against world number four Agnieszka Radwanska, who has only dropped five games in her two matches so far and crushed Muguruza’s compatriot, the 72-ranked Silvia Soler-Espinosa, 6-1, 6-2 in round three.