A little less than a year ago, Garbine Muguruza walked away from Wimbledon with the runner-up trophy after losing her maiden grand slam final to Serena Williams.
She had described Williams as the “perfect” opponent to face in a major final – someone she grew up admiring and idolising. If Muguruza wanted to win a grand slam, she wanted to do it by taking down the best.
On Saturday, the Venezuelan-born Spaniard did just that to claim a first major trophy.
She walked on Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros and delivered a knockout punch to Williams, who wasn’t just the top seed and defending champion, but is a 21-time major winner looking to equal Steffi Graf’s Open Era record.
Nerves may have played a factor in Muguruza’s loss to Williams at Wimbledon last year, but on Saturday, the Spaniard was fearless, powerful, dictating and focused. Williams too was locked in from the start, serving huge and hitting big.
In a clash that pit the veteran against the upstart, it was the 22-year-old Muguruza who came out and snatched the win 7-5, 6-4 in a one-hour 43-minute showdown, to become the first Spanish woman to win the French Open title since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1998.
Only four women had ever beaten Williams more than once at a grand slam. Muguruza has now become the fifth, having defeated the world No1 in the Roland Garros second round two years ago.
The 34-year-old Williams saved four championship points on her own serve to hang on for 4-5 in the second set. The American made sure that if Muguruza planned on winning the title, she would have to serve it out herself.
The Spaniard held her nerves, coming up with first serves when she needed them to get triple championship point.
There couldn’t have been a more ironic way for Muguruza to win the match. After almost two hours of monster hitting from both sides, Muguruza sealed victory with a lob, that landed smack on the lines and deceived everyone, including umpire Pascal Maria.
It wasn’t until Williams put up her hand, applauding her opponent that Muguruza realised she had just become a grand slam champion. She flung herself to the floor in disbelief.
“Serena was in front of the ball so I didn’t know if it was in or out. I looked at the chair umpire and chair umpire doesn’t want to say anything. Line judge doesn’t want to say anything. I was like ‘did I win Roland Garros? What happened?’ When he said ‘game, set, and match’, I was like, No way. I won. It was amazing,” explained Muguruza later.
Williams said “for sure” it was one of the best championship points ever played against her.
Muguruza said rebounding from those four squandered match points was not easy. But she had promised herself she would control her emotions throughout the fortnight and she wasn’t planning on ditching that plan in the final.
“To be honest I squeezed my ass big time,” her French coach Sam Sumyk happily revealed when asked about those four match points.
Muguruza said: “It was very difficult to see you have four match points and doesn’t go your way. But it’s a final. There’s no room for being disappointed or for excuses… I just tried to be calm.”
Congrats Garbiñe for your win at Roland Garros. Great news for Spanish tennis!— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) June 4, 2016
The Spaniard was even calm in her victory speech. There were no tears, no choking up… It was the sight of a player who clearly is comfortable on the grand stage and wants to return there as often as possible.
“I’m very happy, because today I proved to myself that I can play really well, that I can manage my stress and win against one of the best players in the world,” said Muguruza.
“I think I’m ambitious. I think I have a strong character and I like competition. I like to compete. I like to play against the best players. This is a source of motivation for me.
“Of course I’m very happy, but I’d like to have more. My dream is to continue and win more tournaments, similar tournaments, and to dominate.”
Muguruza was clutch from the start, saving two break points and needing 10 minutes to hold for 2-2 in the first set. A double fault from Williams gave the No4 seed the first break of the match and she consolidated with a scorching forehand down the line winner.
The Spaniard’s ability to seamlessly change direction of the ball was remarkable, and even though Williams got the break back, Muguruza did not fade, breaking again in the 11th game en route to a one-set lead.
They traded breaks in the first three games in the second set, but Muguruza pulled away 3-1 and never looked back.
“She won the first set by one point. That just goes to show you, you really have to play the big points well, and I think she played the big points really well,” said Williams, who is now 21-6 in grand slam finals.
“She’s definitely hitting hard. She just goes for broke on every shot and it works for her…
“I think she has a bright future, obviously. She knows how to play on the big stage and she clearly knows how to win grand slams.”
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