In a bittersweet final yesterday–because I was rooting for Venus–my fourth favorite players (after the Williams sisters and Puerto Rican Monica Puig) won the Wimbledon tournament. Well done for a player who represents Spain but claims her heart belong to Venezuela. A report by Christopher Clarey for the New York Times.
As it turned out, Serena Williams was quite right about Garbiñe Muguruza, and it came at her beloved sister’s expense.
After defeating Muguruza in the 2015 Wimbledon final, Serena Williams turned to her teary young Spanish opponent on Centre Court and said: “Don’t be sad. You’ll be holding this trophy very, very soon; believe me.”
Two years later, there was Muguruza with her arms wrapped around the Venus Rosewater Dish, the trophy reserved for the women’s champion, and with her dimples on display as she beamed with good reason after her 7-5, 6-0 victory over Venus Williams on Saturday.
It was a sensational performance even if it demolished the sentimental story line of a sixth Wimbledon singles title for Williams at the advanced tennis age of 37.
“But we want new names and new faces, so come on,” Muguruza said later, grinning and tapping her hand on the table for effect at her postmatch news conference.
With Serena Williams off the tour and preparing to give birth to her first child, the new wave in the women’s game has managed to strike. Jelena Ostapenko, just 20 and unseeded, won the first title of her careerat the French Open last month. At Wimbledon, Muguruza, 23 and seeded 14th, resurfaced to win her first title in more than a year.
The question is whether she will sink again under the weight of her perfectionist streak and her high-risk tactics.
“I will try to turn the page as fast as possible, but it’s not easy,” Muguruza said. “To win a Grand Slam and then go out and think you have to play as well as that in every other tournament, that’s a mistake. I am going to stay calm and try not to put such high expectations on myself so perhaps I won’t get so frustrated.”
She struggled after beating Serena Williams to win her first major singles title last year at the French Open. Hard as it might be to believe, this Wimbledon final was her first final in any event since that victory in Paris. But what is beyond dispute is that when Muguruza is on target and in the moment, as she was over the last two weeks, her game is a force of nature.
“The whole two weeks, I think, she’s played every point of every single match and didn’t give up once,” said Conchita Martínez, who served as Muguruza’s coach at Wimbledon and was the last Spanish woman to win the tournament, in 1994. “That mentally is very strong, and you could see players break down with that.”
Like Venus Williams, Muguruza has an innate dignity on court: shoulders back, head held high and an unhurried walk between points. Like Williams, Muguruza is a big- and flat-hitting power player who can also produce world-class defense, but is happiest when she is most aggressive.
She played much more conservatively in her early years, “but then my body started to change,” said Muguruza, who is now just under 6 feet.
“I grew up a lot; my arms were longer; I felt like I had to adapt,” she said. “I found my game going that way, more aggressive. I’m a tall person, taking my chances. In grass, actually, it works very well.”
Muguruza earned her first Wimbledon title by pulling herself together after an emotional fourth-round defeat at last month’s French Open, where she failed to defend her title and ended up in tears at a news conference.
She earned it by navigating her way through a difficult draw in grand style, defeating top-ranked Angelique Kerber in a three-set, fourth-round match that was perhaps the best of the women’s tournament.
She earned it on Saturday by holding her own early, under considerable duress, and then fighting off two set points in the opening set, an intense corner-to-corner duel in which the grunts from the players and the applause from the spectators reverberated off the closed Centre Court roof.
It was top-drawer entertainment, brimming with suspense. That made it all the more of a contrast with a second set that quickly became a bittersweet procession toward the trophy for Muguruza and toward disappointment for Williams, who seemed out of energy and solutions.
Asked on court after the match if she had a message for her absent sister Serena, Venus Williams responded: “Oh, I miss you. I tried my best to do the same things you do, but I think that there will be other opportunities. I do.”
Venus Williams has already played in two Grand Slam singles finals this year, losing to her sister in the Australian Open final, but with younger players rising, it is far from certain that there will be more. Williams, who has the energy-sapping autoimmune disorder Sjogren’s syndrome, was asked if she had been feeling fatigued down the stretch on Saturday.
“She played amazing,” Williams said of Muguruza, dodging the question.
Muguruza played well when she needed it most. She fought off the first of the two set points at 4-5, 15-40 by winning a 20-stroke baseline rally, an exchange in which one of her forehands struck the net cord before landing deep in Williams’s half of the court.
“I can’t remember a match where one point decided the outcome as much as the set point Venus had decided this one,” said Martina Navratilova, a nine-time Wimbledon singles champion.
Muguruza saved the next set point with a strong first serve that Williams returned long, and she gradually took complete control. Muguruza reeled off nine straight games to close out the victory as Williams’s forehand and defenses continued to crack.
While the first set required 51 minutes, the second needed only 26. Muguruza finished it off by using technology that was not available when Williams won her first Wimbledon singles title in 2000, successfully challenging a line call on her third match point.
When the electronic replay confirmed that Williams’s final shot had landed past the baseline, Muguruza dropped her racket, sank to her knees, covered her face with both hands and began to cry before regaining her feet and walking forward to embrace Williams at the net.
There would be many more embraces after Muguruza had walked off Centre Court, balancing the Venus Rosewater Dish on her head as if it were a book in charm school. Among the Spaniards who congratulated her were the former king Juan Carlos, the former Wimbledon men’s champion Manolo Santana and Martínez.
Like Muguruza, Martínez had to beat a 37-year-old icon to win her Wimbledon title. She defeated Navratilova in the 1994 final.
“History repeated itself,” Navratilova said.
The parallels were hardly lost on Martínez, a superstitious player throughout her long career.
“It wasn’t about me; it was more about what she had to do to beat Venus and not focus on her age, but in my mind there were too many coincidences,” Martínez said.
Martínez, who made sure that Muguruza always practiced on Court 11 and stuck to routines, helped coach Muguruza in the absence of her regular coach, Sam Sumyk, who missed Wimbledon because of the pregnancy of his wife, Meilen Tu.
Sumyk and Martínez consulted regularly during the tournament, but Martínez was the one in the players’ box on Centre Court on Saturday, shouting “Vamos” and “Grande” as Muguruza played brilliantly in her third Grand Slam singles final.
On Monday, she will be back at No. 5 in the rankings, but that was hardly the most impressive news for a young, powerful woman who has won only four tour events but is the first to defeat each of the Williams sisters in a Grand Slam singles final.
As a Wimbledon winner, Muguruza now has membership in the All England Club. On Saturday, shortly after match point, she was inside the clubhouse, examining the board that bears the names of past champions. “Miss G. Muguruza” had already been painted on the board directly below “Miss S. Williams.”
“Finally!” Muguruza said, even if two years did not seem that long a wait.