In 1994, a 22-year-old Conchita Martinez won the Wimbledon ladies title to stop Martina Navratilova, 37 then, from becoming the oldest women’s Grand Slam champion in the Open era. She was on the Centre Court on Saturday as well, as her ward, the 23-year-old Garbine Muguruza, stood staunchly to deny Venus Williams, 37 now, that same title.
It is evident that Martinez had a big role to play in Muguruza capturing the title that had evaded her last year. Martinez had been the only Spanish woman to win on the lawns of the All England Club, and would have shared her wisdom of playing at perhaps the most historic grounds in tennis. On Saturday, Muguruza joined her mentor as only the second Spanish woman to win Wimbledon with a 7-5, 6-0 victory over Williams.
The elder of the Williams sisters, who has made a stirring comeback to the game since being diagnosed with Sjorgen’s Syndrome, had claimed the Venus Rosewater dish five times and has a total Grand Slam count of seven. But on the day, it was her younger opponent who refused to crumble.
“Of course I’m nervous because I always dreamed about winning it,” said Muguruza, with a smile as sunny as Spain. “But I was composed.”
That hasn’t always been the strength of this hard-hitting player. Blessed with natural ball-striking ability, Muguruza had looked like a genuine contender to take over Serena Williams’ throne when she beat the younger Williams sister in last year’s French Open final. She is one of the few players who can claim to have overpowered Serena. But she found the glare of expectation too much to handle. Her record in the Majors after that was: second round at Wimbledon, second round of the US Open, quarter-final at 2017 Australian Open and fourth round of French Open. Defending her title in Paris, Muguruza left the city in tears as the French crowd turned hostile when she took on home hope Kristina Mladenovic.
“I just had a very clear idea it was going to be a rough tournament for me after winning a Grand Slam and coming here. With everybody looking at me,” she had said after losing 3-6, 2-6 to World No 124 Jana Cepelova at Wimbledon 2016. “I think it is part of being at the top level. I would not change that. I know every time I step on the court, well, they want to beat me so much.”
The build up to this year’s Wimbledon was low-key. With the women’s game still trying to cope without an obvious leader, Muguruza was always one of the contenders. She had the credentials: a game defined by flat and furious shot-making that is so effective on grass and a final appearance in 2015.
But like most women’s Grand Slam champions not named Williams in the past few years, consistency and temperament was an issue. On bad days, her high-risk game can look wasteful. Having reached a high of No 2 in the rankings after winning the French Open last year, Muguruza is currently down to 15. She hadn’t won a single title in 2017, and had a win-loss record 23-13.
Since her arrival at SW19, she kept her head down and unleashed the fury against her opponents. Only World No 1 Angelique Kerber was able to resist her somewhat, taking a set off her in the fourth round. But as the tournament has progressed, Muguruza has looked sharper and keener. She dismissed the experienced Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 6-4 in the quarter-finals and stopped Magdalena Rybarikova’s fairytale run with a ruthless 6-1, 6-1 win in the semis.
“Probably two years ago it was just a surprise because, you know, grass was something new for me. I felt like, ‘Oh, I'm in the final of a tournament that I least expected,’” Muguruza had said after making her second Wimbledon final on Thursday. “When I achieved the final in 2015, and I won the French Open, I could feel the difference between winning a Grand Slam and not winning. I think it's a huge difference. So I want the big one now.”
That intent and focus stayed etched on her through the match.
With Williams gunning for history, she had come equipped with an impressive armoury. And the two big-hitting women went toe-to-toe till 5-4 in the first set. Williams knew it was time to go for the kill. She stepped in and slapped a backhand return winner to go up 15-0 on Muguruza’s serve. After a service winner and two forehand errors, Muguruza was staring down at two set points. A 19-shot rally, with neither holding back and involved in an intense forehand-to-forehand battle, came to an end with Williams hitting into the net. The Spaniard saved the second break point with a service winner. She then hit Williams out of position and pounced on a short reply with a forehand down the line. Another error from the Williams racquet saw Muguruza hold on 5-5.
But the disappointment of not converting those break points proved too much for Williams. She couldn’t win a single game after that and went down in a blaze of errors, including six in the last two games of the opening set. The energy that had seen her get past a bunch of 20-year-olds in her 20th appearance at Wimbledon, was fast draining.
Even when the American stayed in the rally, Muguruza held her own, refusing to succumb to Williams’ power and pace. Ten unforced errors flew off the Williams racquet in the second set and she was able to win only a total of 12 points. But the Spaniard never once let her level dip, closing out the match in an hour and 17 minutes.
“Once you step on the court, you see the crowd, you see the final, you see I’m here playing another Wimbledon final,” Muguruza said. “So very satisfying the way I handled it.”
It was the kind of performance that will once again set off tall expectations from the 6-foot player. Ones she is better trained to handle now.
Updated Date: Jul 16, 2017 09:49:16 IST