It was four summers ago, on a balmy Parisian day that Garbine Muguruza announced her arrival at the big stage. As she pelted her way past a shell-shocked Serena Williams in the second round of the 2014 French Open, her thundering backhand sent waves of fear across the tennis world.
Muguruza’s arrival to the grand stage caused a minor diplomatic kerfuffle between Venezuela, where she was born and Spain, the country she adopted. It took her a long time to decide, but eventually, the young woman opted to play with the Spanish flag to her name.
It was only a matter of time before Muguruza made the most of her versatility – winning the French Open in 2016 while avenging a painstaking loss to Serena in the Wimbledon finals a year earlier.
Muguruza doubled her delight when she defeated Venus Williams to win Wimbledon last year, becoming World No.1 in the process. The 24-year-old believes that her major success deserves an asterisk for getting past the Williamses on both occasions.
As she returns to the site of her crowning moment in tennis, Muguruza carries the weight of a failed title defense in Paris last year and a disappointing defeat to Barbora Strycova in Birmingham this week.
Muguruza insists though that she has learnt her lessons from her fourth-round loss during the French Open title defense in 2017. "I'm completely different now. Before I was thinking a lot about the tournament and now I don’t even think about it,” said the Spaniard. “I know it will naturally come, and there’s no reason to worry today.”
An early defeat in Birmingham has left Muguruza with additional time to prepare for defending her title at Wimbledon. Incidentally, the loss to Strycova could be a good omen. In Eastbourne last year, Muguruza lost 6-1 6-0 to the Czech player, before going on to win Wimbledon.
While the French Open was a dream come true for the Spaniard, winning Wimbledon established her credentials as an all-court champion with the game to match up with the very best. Her ascent to the top ranking on the strength of her showing in London helped ice the cake for Muguruza.
But success hasn’t come without its share of pain.
Only 24, Muguruza has often faced criticism for lacking in physical consistency, often afflicted by injury and flagging stamina.
A suspect mind, especially in long matches and a fragile body have accounted for an inconsistent career for Muguruza. Since her first victory in Hobart four years ago, the World No 3 has managed to add just five more titles to her collection, including the two majors.
A good performance in Wimbledon can go a long way toward enhancing her confidence and building upon it as she looks to strengthen her mind and body for the middle phase of her career.
"I believe I can win the trophy again," said Muguruza, as she prepared for another go on her least favourite surface.
"The tricky part is adapting the body and movement. Other surfaces are more comfortable for the body," explained Muguruza. "You have to run in a certain way. The ball bounces less, the balls are heavier, the court is faster. But I think my movement and physical capacity and strength, all have improved a lot."
Muguruza has a dependable first serve, and her experience at the net could come in handy. She can shorten points and work the angles using her height and reach to work her way past opponents from the forecourt.
The backhand is one of her best weapons. She uses it to lethal effect off the ground and while returning serve. It is a significant factor in her success at Wimbledon.
The mental side of her game is an obvious candidate for discussion. While she is a great front-runner, Muguruza is prone to negativity and shaky tennis when her back is against the wall.
Her physical conditioning and stamina have been a source of agony for Muguruza, often frustrated by her inconsistent performances.
Muguruza has a 25-13 record on grass, with her best results coming in 2017, when she was 10-2 through the grass-court swing. The Spaniard is 16-5 at Wimbledon, with an appearance in the finals of 2015 and the title run last year her best results.
Serena is still working her way back from maternity, and Maria Sharapova is far from her best. While they remain threats, Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens and Simona Halep could be the other women looking to usurp the queen from her perch at SW19.
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Updated Date: Jun 27, 2018 12:37:55 IST