It is no surprise that Serena Williams has been an inspiration for Garbine Muguruza, the 21-year-old she faces in the Wimbledon final.
After all, the American world No1 has had an impact on countless youngsters throughout her illustrious career, which has spanned three different decades.
But what many do not expect is how Muguruza has influenced Williams and how she has played a role in the 33-year-old’s stretch of incredible results over the past 12 months – a run where she has picked up three consecutive majors.
At the French Open last year, Muguruza – ranked No35 at the time – delivered a huge shock when she defeated Williams in the second round in straight sets in 64 minutes.
“It was an eye‑opening loss for me,” explained Williams, who is now on a 27-match winning streak at grand slams.
“Some losses you’re angry about, and some losses you learn from. That loss I think I learned the most from in a long time. I got so much better after that loss. I was able to improve a lot. I worked on things.”
Williams has beaten Muguruza since then, in three sets at January’s Australian Open, and despite the gulf in experience between them, the top seed expects another battle against the Spaniard today.
“I don’t think she’s intimidated at all. She’s not that kind of person. So she’ll be fine,” said Williams of Muguruza. “She has Wimbledon to lose. I think we both have Wimbledon to lose, so I think that’s something to lose.
"And, yeah, she’s beaten me before, so she knows how to win. She knows what to do. It’s a different situation. So I think it puts her in a unique position where she has an opportunity to become Wimbledon champ.”
Muguruza is the first Spanish woman to make a grand slam final in 15 years, since Conchita Martinez made the Roland Garros final in 2000.
Hailing from a country that has 12 men ranked inside the top-100, headlined by one Rafael Nadal who has won 14 grand slam titles, Muguruza concedes that making a name for herself between those Spanish giants back home has not been easy.
Yet she finds herself the only remaining Spaniard at Wimbledon, with a shot at the title, while Nadal and co are on holiday in Spain, sending her congratulatory tweets and messages over the past two days.
“It actually means a lot because to read these messages from these kind of players, it’s so cool. I’m actually really happy that they support me and they watch me play. It’s really good,” said the charming Muguruza.
“I don’t feel pressure at all. I think the goal of (matching) Rafa is really high for pressure. I’m just happy to be here.
"This is a great achievement. I think it’s really good for women’s tennis. You know, just to try to keep improving, to give more good news.”
Muguruza’s last four wins were against four of the best counter-punchers and retrievers of the game in Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki, Timea Bacsinszky and Agnieszka Radwanska.
Although Williams poses a very different kind of challenge, Muguruza insists she must stick to what she knows best, which is her aggressive game. She finds comfort and confidence in her solid 1-2 record against Williams.
“It’s really important because it makes you see and realise that she’s also a person,” she said of her previous win against Williams. “She also has feelings. She also gets nervous.”
A win for Williams today would be the American’s fourth consecutive grand slam win – and 21st overall – and would put her within one major of completing a rare Grand Slam, which hasn’t been achieved on the women’s circuit since Steffi Graf won all four majors in 1988.
Williams has forbidden the media from asking her about it, and added: “I don’t want the pressure of that, and I’m not thinking of that. When you talk about it every time, you can’t help but think about it.
“It’s been okay just to free my brain from that.”
As the tournament enters its final days, the press conferences typically get more and more serious but you can always count on Novak Djokovic to send the interview room into a fit of laughter.
The world No 1 was doing his post-match press conference while Roger Federer and Andy Murray were playing the other semi-final and they were stuck in an epic 15-minute game at the end of the second set as Djokovic was fielding questions from the press.
Since we didn’t know who his final opponent would be at the time, I had to ask him about each one separately and after giving a lengthy tribute to both Federer and Murray, he added laughing: “So if you asked me who I would like to play, I cannot tell you. I have no preference whatsoever. I would like them to play a little bit tomorrow, the fifth, and then let’s see who comes out on Sunday.”
Sadly for Djokovic, Federer finished off Murray in just over two hours.
A somber Murray showed up to press a short while later and while his disappointment to lose was written all over his face, there was a brief moment where he cracked a smile when he was asked by French journalist Carole Bouchard if his defeat to Federer would have any bearing on his preparation for Davis Cup next weekend against France at Queen’s Club.
“You’re French, so you’re hoping that’s the case,” Murray said with a smirk. Nice to see the Scot able to find humour even in defeat.
Meanwhile, Federer was asked a hilarious question during his post-match conference.
“You’ve been widely acclaimed as one of the great players. This morning Rod Laver said you would win. A lot of people are almost in love with you, things like that. Do you have like Jose Mourinho, that you’re the special one?” said the reporter.
Federer’s response: “I’m sure there’s going to be many great players in the future. The game is bigger than any athletes we’ve ever had. It really is. I don’t know Jose very well. To be quite honest, I’ve only met him once.
“No, definitely I feel very much liked by many people around the world. It’s been amazing to have that support. It helps when you’ve been around the block for a long time. People sort of get to know you.
“Like I said, the tennis is bigger than anybody. We’ll have future Wimbledon champions, future world No1’s. It’s going to be even greater in 50 years’ time, 100 years’ time. It’s a great game to play, I tell you.”
Earlier in the day, Garbine Muguruza came to fulfil her pre-final press duties. The Spaniard kept insisting she wasn’t superstitious even though she is forbidding her parents – who have been in Barcelona following her progress from afar – from coming to London to watch her play Serena Williams in today’s final.
“My parents, they’re going to be in Barcelona watching me from the TV. I don’t want to change anything, but I’m not superstitious,” said Muguruza.
Someone should really explain to her what superstitious means.
Twenty four hours before playing the biggest match of her career – the Wimbledon final against Serena Williams – Garbine Muguruza walked into the main media centre at the All England Club and charmed the socks off everyone in the room.
The Venezuelan-born Spaniard boasts a big game with an even bigger personality – a winning combination that has taken her into the world’s top 10 (she’ll be No 9 on Monday if she loses the Wimbledon final, or No 6 if she wins) and could very much keep her there for many years to come.
Heading into the tournament, Muguruza did not think she could do well on grass.
Although she had the game for it, the 21-year-old had struggled with the different bounce and change in movement the surface requires.
That makes the way she has stormed through the draw this fortnight all the more remarkable, especially with her sustaining
her aggressive game against some of women’s tennis’ toughest ball retrievers like world No 5 Caroline Wozniacki or world No 10 Angelique Kerber.
While we’ve had our fair share of surprise female grand slam finalists in recent years – most recently Lucie Safarova at the French Open – there are several reasons why Muguruza breaking through this Wimbledon is particularly great news for the WTA.
Unlike others who have had one-off big tournaments, Muguruza is a player who has been steadily making noise at the majors over the past 18 months.
This Wimbledon presents the fifth time she has made the second week of a major, in her last seven slams, which makes it hard to think this fortnight is a fluke.
At a time when the world No 1 is 33, and the average age of the top-10 is 27, it is refreshing to have a 21-year-old in the finals at Wimbledon.
She is one of only five WTA players born in the 1990s to have made a grand slam final – alongside Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki and Eugenie Bouchard – but unlike her contemporaries, you are almost certain that Muguruza’s best days are still in front of her.
Serena said she wasn’t banking on Muguruza getting overwhelmed by the occasion of the Wimbledon final and the American world No 1 was right.
The first thing you notice about Muguruza is how she does not get intimidated easily and she has always said that she loves playing on the big courts at the biggest tournaments.
That’s one of the main reasons you can expect her to do well in the future. She’s also a big hit with the media. She speaks her mind – which is more rare than you would think – and projects so much passion when talking about the sport, it really is infectious.
That raw love for the sport is what you need from the players right now to inspire more youngsters to get into tennis, the same way Rafael Nadal has done over the past decade.
In Muguruza, the WTA has someone with confidence, strength, ambition and charm – that’s more than anyone could ask for in a future champion. Except that future could very much be today, as she attempts to stand in the way of her rival’s ‘Serena Slam’.