There was a moment during Garbine Muguruza’s swift demolition of Magdalena Rybarikova in the Wimbledon semi-finals on Thursday that stood out to me.
The Spaniard slammed a bullet of a down-the-line return winner that landed smack in the corner to break for 3-0 in the second set, then immediately walked to her bench, almost before the ball had touched the ground, and without once taking a glance at her opponent.
It’s like she had tunnel vision and was literally just playing the ball and not another human being across the net.
“I just wanna win, no matter who is in front of me,” she later said in a TV interview.
It often baffles me when a player says ‘I just focus on myself, irrespective of who I’m playing’. How? Tennis is so often a chess match, and tactics should be tailored based on specific opponents.
But when I listen to Muguruza talking about concentrating on her side of the net and executing to perfection, I realise how much that strategy is working for her.
She said she stepped onto the court against Rybarikova “super-confident” and it showed.
If you have that much belief in your own abilities, perhaps it’s true that nothing else matters.
“I could not do almost anything today,” said a helpless Rybarikova after the match.
“She didn’t give me much chance to do something.”
Muguruza will need to do the same against Venus Williams in the final on Saturday. Because the moment Muguruza realises she is facing a five-time Wimbledon champion who has also been progressing through the draw with so much confidence, maybe that is when the Spaniard will falter.
Muguruza lost to Serena Williams in the final here two years ago. She then beat the American in the French Open final last season. She hasn’t reached any final at any tournament since.
The 23-year-old says she’s both older and wiser now and will try to enjoy the experience of being in a Wimbledon final once again.
“I’m feeling pretty good. I think it’s a good moment right now. It goes very fast. So I’m trying to enjoy. The previous times, you know, you’re so concentrated that you cannot enjoy as well,” said Muguruza on Friday.
“I know tomorrow I’m looking forward a lot to go on the court. Last match here. Try to change things after the last two years. That’s it. Just trying to enjoy also.”
Having experienced both, the feeling of walking away a winner and the feeling of going home as the runner-up from a Grand Slam final, Muguruza knows it’s way more fun getting the bigger trophy.
“Definitely I want to win, for sure. Is very different to hold the trophy than to have – you know… I really felt 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 definitely want to be the one who takes the big one,” said the No14 seed.
Whether she wins or not on Saturday, Muguruza will once again be faced with a typical challenge for her: How can she step up for the smaller tournaments the way she does at the Slams? The fact that she only owns three titles in total, one of them being a Grand Slam remains a true mystery.
“I find it strange because she doesn’t have consistency so much. She can do some tournaments very well, and some tournaments she can be out very quickly. I don’t know why,” said Svetlana Kuznetsova, who lost to Muguruza in the quarter-finals here.
Maybe Muguruza doesn’t know why either, but it’s imperative for her to figure it out post-Wimbledon, because surely waiting another 12 months to get to another final is not a scenario she’d want to go through again.
Roger Federer made it into a fourth Wimbledon final in his last six appearances thanks to a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4), 6-4 victory over 11th-seeded Tomas Berdych on Friday.
The 35-year-old Federer reached a record 11th Wimbledon final and will be looking to claim an unprecedented eighth men’s singles trophy at the All England Club. He is yet to drop a set this fortnight.
The No3 seed is the second-oldest man in the Open Era to reach a Wimbledon title match and will face Marin Cilic in Sunday’s finale.
Federer took a six-month break after Wimbledon last year to get over lingering back and knee problems, and returned in January to win the Australian Open, in what was his first official event back.
He then won Indian Wells and Miami before skipping the clay season to be best prepared for Wimbledon, and make sure he was taking care of his body.
He won Halle in the build-up to the action at SW19 and is now one victory away from a record-extending 19th Grand Slam trophy.
“I feel very privileged to be in another final… I can’t almost believe it’s true again,” said Federer upon stepping off the court.
The Swiss claimed an eighth consecutive triumph over Berdych, who was looking to reach his second Wimbledon final.
Federer broke first and opened up a 4-2 gap but Berdych pegged him back, needing three attempts to break the Swiss’ serve and draw level for 4-all.
Federer hit a passing shot right at Berdych’s body to get another break point opportunity in game 11 but the Czech found his serve when he needed it and saved it. Berdych was attacking the net more frequently than expected but was only successful on half of those approaches thus far.
The set fittingly went to a tiebreak, where Federer leapt to a 4-2 lead. Berdych got the mini-break through with a clever return pass that caught a net-rushing Federer off guard.
Still Federer ran away with the breaker for a one-set lead. The second set saw no service breaks and Federer also took it in the tiebreak.
Berdych had opportunities to break in the third, but Federer held on and jumped to a 5-3 lead.
Serving for a place in the final, the Swiss started the game with a passing shot winner, then drew Berdych to the net with a sneaky drop shot, with the Czech netting the response. He sealed the contest three points later to put himself in a position to chase more history.
“If you look at the other guys who are 35, 36, you can clearly see that the age and years on tour are affecting them, but not with him. He’s doing things in a very right way,” said Berdych of Federer.
“I don’t see anything that would indicate really Roger is getting older or anything like that. I mean, I think he’s just proving his greatness in our sport.”
Five-time champion Venus Williams will take on 2015 runner-up Garbine Muguruza in the Wimbledon final on Saturday, in a clash between two confident big-hitters with grass-court prowess.
Williams, 37, is playing her 20th Wimbledon and obviously is far more experienced, but Muguruza has had tunnel vision throughout the fortnight, and looks to be solely focused on winning her first title at the All England Club and a second Grand Slam trophy, to go with her Roland Garros 2016 success.
Here’s a closer look at the all the numbers and figures surrounding this intriguing final match-up.
– This is their first meeting on grass.
– Venus is going for a sixth Wimbledon trophy and eighth Grand Slam title. She is playing a ninth Wimbledon final.
– Venus has played 101 matches at Wimbledon.
– Venus has conceded 50 games en route to the final, compared to just 39 for Muguruza.
– Venus is 7-8 win-loss in Grand Slam finals.
– Venus is playing her second Slam final of the season (lost 2017 AO final to Serena). The last time Venus had reached multiple Slam finals in a calendar year was in 2003 (runner-up at AO and Wimbledon).
– Venus is bidding to become the 10th woman in the Open Era to win a Slam in her 30s.
– At 37 years and 28 days, Venus is the oldest woman to make a Slam final since Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon 1994. She is attempting to overtake Serena’s record (34 years and 287 days) as the oldest woman in Open Era to win a Wimbledon crown.
– By reaching final this fortnight, Venus is the only woman to have reached the fourth round or better in the last six Grand Slams.
– Venus has won five grass titles, all at Wimbledon. She’s second on the list of most grass titles won among active players.
– If Venus wins the title, she will rise to No4 in the world rankings – her highest since October 2010.
– Average ranking Venus’ opponents this fortnight is 36.
– This is Muguruza’s first final since winning the French Open 13 months ago.
– Muguruza is bidding to become the eighth active player to win multiple Grand Slam titles.
– Muguruza is guaranteed to return to the top five in the rankings if she wins.
– Average ranking of Muguruza’s opponents this fortnight is 55.
– Muguruza is playing her second final in just five Wimbledon main draw appearances.
– Muguruza has six top-20 wins this season.
– Muguruza is the second player to face both Williams sisters in the final of the same major (Hingis faced Venus in US Open 1997 final and Serena in 1999).
– Muguruza is attempting to become just the second Spanish woman, after Conchita Martinez (coaching her this fortnight) to win Wimbledon in the Open Era.