This year’s Wimbledon finals had a unique storyline – the age-defying feat of both Roger Federer and Venus Williams. It brought them to the cusp of history.
Perhaps this was the reason behind the shock which enveloped the tennis world when Williams was subdued by 14th seed Garbine Muguruza in the final with a score of 7-5, 6-0.
Despite having had a poor 12 months, Muguruza is no stranger to Grand Slam success. She played her 1st Slam final here at Wimbledon back in 2015 when she was beaten by arguably the greatest women’s player and Venus’s sister Serena. She comfortably avenged her loss to Serena at the 2016 French Open, winning her first Grand Slam title in straight sets, with the loss of just 9 games.
With her victory today over the American, Muguruza becomes only the 2nd player from Spain to win the ladies’ Singles Championships at Wimbledon.
At 37 years of age, Venus was the oldest finalist in Wimbledon ladies’ singles. She was the crowd favorite to win this match. The perfect fairy tale was in the making. The 23-year old Spaniard crashed the party and thoroughly outplayed Venus — defying odds and dashing the hopes of many fans.
The last time a 37-year-old American played a 22-year-old Spaniard in Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles finals — the story was not very different. The year was 1994 and the title was won by none other than Muguruza’s coach Conchita Martinez. The 37-year-old American on the other side was Martina Navratilova.
How It All Began
Spanish players are trained primarily on slow red clay courts, which is why so many of them struggle to make a mark on the fast surface of grass.
As a toddler, Muguruza, (born in Caracas, Venezuela) followed her elder brothers to local courts. As an excited 3-year-old, Garbine didn’t want to face the fear of missing out. So to copy her brothers, she too picked up a racquet and started lobbing the balls against the wall.
It didn’t take her long though to realize her love for the game. By the age of 6, she was already entering tournaments. Combining relentless style with hard work, she began playing the main WTA Tour at the age of 18.
How The Final Was Won
Venus started the match with a 109 mph ace. Initially, the play went on serve as both players were trying to get their grip on the match. Venus with her trademark flat forehands began to penetrate the Spaniard’s forehand and it was working. Muguruza frequently fell to 0-30 on her serve while trying to go for the outright, down-the-line winner and missing it long. When asked about it, she attributed it to her nerves. “Maybe I was too hungry and too aggressive to win points at the start, but I wasn’t too worried as I thought it was only nerves,” she said.
But as it has been throughout the tournament, Muguruza’s serve came to the rescue and her widely acclaimed net play bailed her out. When she served to stay in the match at 4-5, she lost her focus once again and faced two set points. But her forehands were now beginning to find their range. She saved one break-point with a lung-busting 19-shot rally and the second one with an unreturnable serve.
Venus’ weapons had now begun to desert her. With her double fault count rising to 5 and her own forehands beginning to falter, it was the Spaniard’s turn to step on the gas. Once Muguruza broke for 6-5, she never looked back and went on to win the first set 7-5.
In the second set, Williams looked increasingly out of sorts. Muguruza clung to the baseline, adapted her strokes to absorb Williams’ power and return them – often so deep that Williams had to adjust her court positions several times during the rally.
It was evident from Venus’ body language that the end was near. The Spaniard consolidated her first break and held for 3-0. Few more forehand winners and few hawk eye challenges later – Garbine Muguruza bent her knees and fell to the ground to acknowledge the hallowed court. She had won her first Wimbledon and her second Grand Slam title, beating a different Williams sister in each of the 2 finals.
Garbine’s Game – The Technical Highlights
While Muguruza’s 2017 Grass preparation was lackluster due to early losses in Birmingham and Eastbourne, her game began to click as she stepped into the first week of this tournament. She lost only one set throughout — to defending finalist Angelique Kerber in the 4th round. Much of her success can be attributed to her improved backhand which she uses to mount a sturdy defense and turn it into attack with her penetrating deep groundstrokes.
Her net game has also considerably improved. She often surprised her opponents by rushing forward to finish the points at the net. As a player who once called the bounce on grass “weird”, she certainly appears to have adapted her game well and made the surface her home – with 2 Wimbledon finals and 1 title.
What It Means Going Forward
Muguruza definitely looked under pressure over the past 12 months. The weight of being a Grand Slam Champion seemed to take too much of her. Indeed, when she came back to Paris this year to defend her title, the expectations from her were sky high. She admitted but casually brushed them aside too. “It’s not easy, it’s very good when you win it, and it’s hard after when you come back and you know you have to defend it.”
As a tennis player, you never want to forever be on the losing side in Grand Slam finals. Muguruza looked to draw lessons from the losing experience in her first finals here in 2015. “I always come very motivated to the Grand Slams,” Muguruza said in the press conference, “Since I lost the final here, I wanted to change that. I came thinking, ‘I’m prepared, I feel good.’ During the tournament and the matches, I was feeling better and better. Every match, I was increasing my level”.
Asked if those break points in the first set bothered her, she said “When I had those set points against me, I’m like, ‘Hey, it’s normal. I’m playing Venus here.’ So I just kept fighting, and I knew that if I was playing like I was playing during the two weeks, I was going to have eventually an opportunity. I was calm. Even If I lost the first set, I’d still have two more. Let’s not make a drama, you know.”
Even with a terrible second half of 2016, her self-belief never wavered. Thinking about the lost final here in 2015, Muguruza said “Two years ago I lost to Serena and she told me maybe one day I would win. Here I am!”
These replies reflected tremendous level headedness, positivity, and character – stuff that champions are made of. With the level of tennis that she put on display, it is quite shocking that she only has 4 titles on the WTA tour. But age is on her side.
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