Wimbledon 2015: Venezuela-born Garbiñe Muguruza Realizes a Dream, but Faces Nightmarish Odds


Well, the Wimbledon women’s final is upon us and the Caribbean has a lot to celebrate. First it was the Dominican Republic’s Víctor Estrella Burgos making it to the second round, second was Dustin Brown’s great run, which included defeating Rafael Nadal, and now we have Venezuela-born Garbiñe Muguruza in the final. She is playing my absolute tennis-heroine, Serena Williams, so I can’t say I’ll be rooting for young Garbiñe; but if she makes it through I’ll raise a glass to her Caribbean birth.

The only way to know how you will handle a first Grand Slam final is to wake up in the morning, feel the hope and tension rise, walk onto the court with the cameras clicking and the crowd buzzing, and actually play that first Grand Slam final.

No matter how much composure and confidence Garbiñe Muguruza has projected at Wimbledon this year, no matter how many top 10 players and establishment figures she has eliminated, it is impossible to know whether the protocol and the occasion will prove too much for her and her high-risk game to manage on Saturday afternoon at the All England Club.

Even if Muguruza, 21, does remain calm and carry on, the task at hand could not be tougher. Her opponent in her first major final is Serena Williams, the greatest player of this era and, increasingly, any era.

“To have Serena in the Wimbledon final, I think, is the hardest match you can have,” Muguruza said. “If you want to win a Grand Slam, when you dream, you say, ‘I want Serena in the final.’ ”

That vision puts Muguruza in the minority. Tennis history proves that if you want to win a Grand Slam, the best opponent to dream up is anybody but Williams, who has a record of 20-4 in singles finals in the majors and has won the last seven she has appeared in, plus the Olympic gold medal, since joining forces with coach Patrick Mouratoglou before Wimbledon in 2012.

“It’s because Serena’s an immense champion,” Mouratoglou said. “She has the impression that the title belongs to her, so she’s coming to collect her property. It’s really a very unusual state of mind.”

Muguruza can at least have the peace of mind that goes with having beaten Williams soundly on a lesser occasion, winning, 6-2, 6-2, in the second round of the French Open in 2014.

But the match that is a better indicator of the current balance of power came in January, when Williams rallied to beat Muguruza, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, in the fourth round of the Australian Open on her way to the title.

That was big-bang, first-strike tennis, and it was a duel that turned for good on Williams’s opening service game of the third set, when Muguruza missed a manageable forehand volley that would have given her a 2-0 lead in the set.

Williams saved five more break points before holding serve and then stepping on the accelerator, slamming first serves with her usual authority.

There is as much risk that Williams will take Muguruza lightly on Saturday as there is of the All England Club rescinding its all-white clothing rule in favor of fluorescent blue.

“I will have to bring my ‘A’ game if I want to be Wimbledon champion,” Williams said.

She might be right, because Muguruza is that rare player with the tool kit to match up with Williams’s strengths.

“She is a super-dangerous opponent; it’s clear that she was the most dangerous of the three in the semifinals here with Serena,” said Mouratoglou, whose compliments came after he all but dismissed Maria Sharapova’s chances against Williams before their semifinal on Thursday.

Mouratoglou added: “Muguruza has everything to play well on grass: the serve, the aggressive returns, the flat strokes, the way she takes the ball early. She’s on her way up. She doesn’t have much to lose.”

There is also no doubt that Muguruza has earned her spot in the final, enduring the gantlet in style through a rugged draw filled with in-form veterans.

Her last four victories came over No. 10-seeded Angelique Kerber, No. 5 Caroline Wozniacki, No. 15 Timea Bacsinszky and, on Thursday in an often-spectacular three-set match, the resurgent No. 13 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, a former Wimbledon champion with a tennis brain as big as Muguruza’s down-the-line forehand.

Radwanska had just beaten another well-regarded member of the new wave, the American Madison Keys, in the quarterfinals.

“I think Madison is hitting much harder than Garbiñe,” Radwanska said. “I think Muguruza, what she’s doing, she’s very solid from both sides. Even if she uses so much power, she also has good direction, mixing up. That’s what makes her a very good player. We’re going to see her more often in the second weeks of the Grand Slams, that’s for sure.”

Muguruza clearly has the talent and temperament to make return visits, although the possibility of injuries — like the serious wrist problems that have derailed, at least for now, the careers of Juan Martín del Potro and Laura Robson — run contrary to giving any guarantees. Muguruza herself had foot surgery in 2013, missing the second half of the season. During her layoff, she hit balls on court while seated in a chair.

Her rise has been steady otherwise, which comes as no surprise. Reflecting on potential rivals for Williams before the season, Martina Navratilova put Muguruza on a two-person list, with Simona Halep.

Anne Keothavong, the former British player, lost to Muguruza on Centre Court in the first round in 2013 in what turned out to be Keothavong’s final match.

“She was 19, and she had huge strikes and was very composed out there,” Keothavong said Thursday. “You just knew that someone with that big a game at that age would always end up being very good. Her first set here against Kerber was one of the best sets of women’s tennis I’ve seen this year. There were dips in her early rounds, but she was able to regroup like she was able to today against Radwanska after losing the second set.”

Muguruza is an ultra-aggressive baseliner with an increasing taste for the net. Six feet tall, she has a natural, shoulders-back elegance, but can also bend very low with the ball in play. With her compact swings and early-contact points, she likes to generate sharp angles. Variety and touch are not her hallmarks, but she has improved in those areas through playing more doubles, usually with her fellow Spaniard Carla Suárez Navarro.

Born in Caracas, Venezuela, to a Venezuelan mother and a Spanish father, Muguruza only made the decision to represent Spain last year, with the 2016 Olympics looming. Her success at Wimbledon comes at a tumultuous time for Spanish tennis players, with Rafael Nadal slumping and with tensions flaring between players and administrators. Muguruza was one of many Spanish players, including Nadal, who signed an open letter on the eve of Wimbledon outlining their concerns.

The Davis Cup captain Gala León has since resigned and has been replaced by Conchita Martínez, the former Wimbledon champion who already was the country’s Fed Cup captain.

Martínez and Arantxa Sánchez Vicario were the leaders in the golden age of Spanish women’s tennis in the 1990s. The men have long since reclaimed the bulk of the attention, but Muguruza could shift the dynamic again.

“It is a time for women’s tennis to return to the light, as it were, and be on a par with men’s tennis, which is at a very high level,” Muguruza said Thursday.

After moving to Spain with her family at an early age, Muguruza trained at the Bruguera Tennis Academy near Barcelona founded by Lluis Bruguera, the father of the two-time French Open men’s champion Sergi Bruguera.

“You could see her talent from the beginning,” Sergi Bruguera once said of Muguruza.

Her flat-hitting power game bears little resemblance to the topspin-whipping style employed by Bruguera, Martínez and Sánchez on their way to major titles. The Spanish news media has sometimes referred to her as a Russian player disguised as a Spaniard, and there is indeed a bit of Sharapova in her ferocious returns and take-the-ball-very-early groundstrokes. But there is also quite a bit of Williams, too.

Muguruza has been watching them for years. Now she is playing them, but beating Williams amid the pomp and circumstance of a Wimbledon final on Centre Court will presumably require the match of Muguruza’s young life.

Even that might not be enough.

For the original report go to http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/10/sports/tennis/garbine-muguruza-realizes-a-dream-but-faces-nightmarish-odds.html?_r=0

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