Garbine Muguruza can finally put the disappointment of defeat in last year’s Wimbledon final behind her. Eleven months after losing to Serena Williams on Centre Court in her first appearance in a Grand Slam final, Muguruza turned the tables here to beat the American 7-5, 6-4 to win the French Open.
There were times in the wake of her Wimbledon run last summer when Muguruza was struggling to cope with the weight of her own expectations, but this was confirmation that the 22-year-old Spaniard has the mental strength to make the best of her rare talent.
With her elegance and power, her engaging smile and big-match temperament, Muguruza can be a major figure in women’s tennis for years to come. She is only the second woman born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam title following Petra Kvitova’s victories at Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014 and will go to No 2 behind Williams in next week’s updated world rankings list.
“I'm so excited,” Muguruza said after her victory. “To play a final of a Grand Slam against one of the best players, it's the perfect final so I'm so happy. Serena's a very powerful player. I had to be ready and very concentrated on all the points and I just tried to fight as much as I could."
As for Williams, the attempt to equal Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 Grand Slam titles will move on to Wimbledon. The 34-year-old American has been stuck on 21 since her triumph at the All England Club last summer and appeared to be close to tears in the presentation ceremony at the end here. Having won 21 of her first 24 Grand Slam finals she has now lost two in a row following her defeat to Angelique Kerber at the Australian Open in January.
Followers of Spanish tennis no doubt thought their best chance of singles glory this year at Roland Garros had gone with Rafael Nadal’s departure from the tournament, but Muguruza’s victory continues her country’s long tradition of success on Parisian clay.
Having become the first Spaniard to reach the women’s final since Conchita Martinez 16 years ago, she is now the first Spanish female champion since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1998. Her success is also another triumph for her French coach, Sam Sumyk, who guided Victoria Azarenka to two Australian Open titles and the top of the world rankings.
All four of the previous meetings between Muguruza and Williams had been in Grand Slam tournaments. Williams had won three of them, but Muguruza had beaten the American 6-2, 6-2 here in the second round two years ago, which remains the heaviest defeat in the 338 matches she has played in Grand Slam tournaments. Although this was Muguruza’s first final on clay, she grew up playing on the surface and clearly feels comfortable on it.
It was a high-quality final, with both women striking the ball with great power. Muguruza in particular was always looking to attack and there were moments when Williams could do little more than acknowledge her opponent’s excellence as winners flew past her. Muguruza’s backhand in particular proved a formidable weapon.
There had been doubts over Williams’ fitness going into the final, but the world No 1 moved much more freely than she had earlier in the week. If there was a weakness in her game it was a failure to match Muguruza’s consistently aggressive approach.
Just as the Centre Court crowd did at Wimbledon last summer, the Parisian public have warmed to Muguruza’s warm smile as well as her brilliant ball-striking. As she took control of the match, the crowd responded in appreciation.
This has been one of the gloomiest and coldest French Opens in living memory, but at least there was a marginal improvement in the weather for the final. Compared with the rest of the second week in particular the temperature was almost balmy at 18C and there were even brief moments when the sun broke through.
From the start the tennis was of the highest order, with both players timing the ball perfectly. Anything short was ruthlessly punished by Muguruza in particular. Some of the shot-making by both players was breath-taking as they struck the ball with impressive power.
Serving at 2-2 and 0-40 in the first set, Williams saved two break points with unreturned serves, only to double-fault on the third. The American broke back to level at 4-4, but was being put under constant pressure by Muguruza and cracked again when serving at 5-5. Williams went 30-40 down when Muguruza hit a huge backhand down the line and was then beaten by a thumping forehand into the other corner.
Muguruza saved a break point when serving for the set and then saw Williams save two set points. On the third, however, Muguruza made no mistake, cracking another big backhand winner down the line.
There was no let-up in the pressure on Williams in the second set. Muguruza broke in the opening game, dropped her own serve immediately after making three double faults in four points, but then broke again to go 2-1 up.
When Williams served at 3-5 she saved four match points thanks to a combination of her own courageous play and her opponent’s over-eagerness, but Muguruza was not to be denied. After going 40-0 up in the next game she retreated under attack from Williams but responded with a brilliant backhand lob. Williams thought the ball was going long, but it landed on the baseline and there was no call. Muguruza waited for confirmation that she had indeed won the match before falling on her back in celebration.
“Serena was in front of the ball so I didn't know if it was in or out,” Muguruza said afterwards. “I looked at the chair umpire and he didn’t want to say anything. The line judge didn’t want to say anything either. 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.”
Asked how she had felt when Williams saved the four match points, Muguruza said: “I just tried to be calm even though inside I was like: ‘Oh, there's no way.’ Then I managed to be calm and just think about what I had to do on every point and not think about whether it was match point or championship point.”
Williams said that Muguruza had played the big points better. “I could have served better,” she added. “I also made a lot of errors on my return. My other matches were against different types of players. She has a totally different style.”
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