When Garbine Muguruza took her early steps in tennis she recalls being a typical Spanish player with a defensive style, sliding and grinding on the clay courts of Barcelona.
“But then I grew up and my body was not like a Spanish player. I was tall, I had a powerful game, my arms were long, so I’m like ‘no you can’t play like Spanish players’, you’ve got to go for it, hit hard. Kind of like Russian style, that’s what they call me in Spain ‘oh Garbine and her Russian style’, but it’s what works for me,” the Venezuelan-born Spaniard says. It certainly does.
Watching Muguruza torment Serena Williams with rocket-like groundstrokes and monster serves to lift the French Open trophy on Saturday, it’s hard to imagine the Spaniard ever considered having a defensive game.
It was a master-class in first-strike tennis and the 22-year-old coupled that with mental fortitude few players can muster against Williams, the world No1 and owner of 21 grand slam titles.
It drove Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, to predict a bright future for Muguruza.
“First being able to play a grand slam final hitting every single shot to win is one thing, being able to play the level she played in the last game, serving only first serves and being able to win it… shows that she deserved this one, so why not others? Sure. She will just have to beat Serena in the next ones, but yes she will probably win others,” said Mouratoglou.
Muguruza is a self-described ambitious player and definitely has her eyes on more major titles, but the new world No2 realises everything is a “learning process”.
When she made her first grand slam final last year at Wimbledon, losing in straight sets to Williams, she went through a rough period on the tour, losing early in all three events she entered in the North American hard court season, including a second round loss to Johanna Konta at the US Open.
She rebounded during the Asian swing but her first four months of 2016 were also difficult.
After winning her maiden grand slam title in Paris, Muguruza vows to not buckle under the pressure of expectation moving forward.
Congrats Garbiñe for your win at Roland Garros. Great news for Spanish tennis!— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) June 4, 2016
Booooom!!! Garbiñe Muguruza!!!— David Ferrer (@DavidFerrer87) June 4, 2016
“I’m comfortable with being the hunted, I wouldn’t change it. I prefer to be the hunted than the other way around,” said Muguruza.
“The story about expectations I really put it away. Sometimes it’s not a good thing to think about that. From now on what I’m going to look for is to try to keep my level and forget about all this ‘I have to win, Garbine has to win’.”
Muguruza believes consistency is her ultimate goal and that she’s not content with winning a big title, then fading at the smaller events.
“I think I had some moments in my career where ‘boom’ great result, then not that great of a result. What I’m trying to get is a more consistent way of going up. I think that’s very hard to get. To be consistent and to grow little by little, grow confidence, grow knowledge, grow that inside power to be good,” she explains.
Her coach Sam Sumyk was impressed by Muguruza’s attitude throughout the tournament, particularly the way she served out the matches against Sam Stosur in the semis and Williams in the final.
The Frenchman says she has the “desire” to do more and he’s optimistic about her chances.
“Let’s keep working. We don’t need to change everything, but we still need to think about how we can improve, of course, but the key is to be healthy. If you’re healthy you can work every day,” said Sumyk.
Muguruza has received messages of congratulations from some of the biggest names in Spanish sport, including Pau Gasol, Sergio Ramos and nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, who had to withdraw from the tournament with a wrist injury before his third round.
Asked if she had sent Nadal a message when he pulled out of the tournament, Muguruza said: “I didn’t send him. But I have to say when we all saw the news we thought ‘oh this Roland Garros will not be the same’. I said to my coach ‘Federer and Nadal are not playing, what is it going to be when they’re really not playing anymore? This is going to be a disaster’.”
Perhaps one day, the world will have similar sentiments about Muguruza.