Garbine Muguruza seems like a nice enough person but she has a lot to learn and not a lot of time.
All she needs to do is beat Serena Williams – and it’s not like she’s never done that before – and by Saturday afternoon, this 21-year-old Spaniard with the backhand super-wallop and beaming smile could be the next international superstar. She certainly hits like one. But she doesn’t talk like one.
It’s possible she had taken leave of her senses in that rarefied moment of victory in her first Wimbledon semi-final, which would explain the discombobulation she visited upon us all by way of the BBC microphone.
“Who do you think will win the other semi-final, Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova?” she was asked, and without ever consciously realising we were doing it, the viewing public braced itself for the inevitable verbal pinhead-based tap-dancing exhibition. Then this happened.
“Well, look at the track record,” she said. “I think Serena is ahead, like 25 to 1. So it will probably be Serena.”
So there you have it. An elite sportsperson, on television, asked a straightforward question, replying with a straightforward answer. The omerta broken. A nation splutters its tea out of its nose. The whole stony edifice is crumbling.
Forgive her. She knows not what she does. She is young. She may yet be a mighty champion. She will learn.
The sporting interview is no more a place to tell the truth than the witness stand at the Old Bailey or the 08.10 slot on the Today programme. There’s no need to lie outright, but what the public wants most is a good old bit of obfuscation.
When it was once enquired of Alan Shearer who his favourite Spice Girl might be, no one actually wanted to know but merely to be reassured of the warmth and stability of his home life. “I have a loving wife and family at home and I’m not prepared to comment on that,” he said, and for that we thank him. It is a pity that, Sol Campbell aside, more retired sportsmen don’t seek out a life in politics. No one in public life masters the art of the filibuster more perfectly than them.
It is a great shame too that, after her total demolition on Thursday, Maria Sharapova has interviewed her last, for Ms Muguruza has much to learn from the Grand Master in this regard. Asked whether accusations of gamesmanship made against her in her quarter-final were genuine, she dusted down her favourite reply, honed to perfection over the last decade: “It is what it is.” Perfect.
Asked whether it was indeed true that new members of her personal staff must wait six months before they are allowed to address her directly, she replied: “That sounds like baloney to me,” the implication being that there must be someone better placed than her to answer this tricky question.
And the most tiresome enquiry of them all, she no longer sees fit to answer. Asked yet again, about just why her every last forehand, backhand, serve and volley must be accompanied by the noise of a castrated hyena being violated by a rhino, she simply replied: “Next question.”
Though when one’s endorsements outstrip one’s actual tennis earnings by a factor of three to one, sport’s defining characteristic is compromised, its overarching appeal, that in the end, everything must be pared back to its irreducible core. After the fireworks and the adverts, the hymns and arias and the fly-past from the Red Arrows, there will be a rumble, and you must be ready.
But for a woman who has racked up twice the fortune of Serena Williams during a decade in which she has never once beaten her, that is quite possibly no longer the case. What one says and doesn’t say, what one wears, has become the heart of the matter. The contest is just somewhere in the background, the currency to which it is loosely pegged.
Of course, we here wouldn’t dare to speak so openly. When we say, “Come on Muguruza!” it should always be borne in mind that other Wimbledon Ladies Champions are available. But, if the almost unimaginable happens, we hope that, in the months and weeks that follow victory, she will have no cause to call for the media trainer.Reuse content