June 4, 2016
In the end, she was the last to know. Her wondrous lob had bounced just inside the baseline but Garbine Muguruza looked confused. Could it really be?
Had she really defeated the great Serena Williams for a second time at Roland Garros, this time in the final itself? Was she a Grand Slam champion at the age of 22?
Muguruza looked at her coach, disbelieving, almost pleading for it to be true. The confirmation came with a nod and a smile. Garbine collapsed onto the precious clay, trying to take it all in.
She had held her nerve, even though she had squandered four match points in the previous game. She had beaten the legendary Williams, 7-5, 6-4, and in doing so she had destroyed that American warrior’s dream, for a month at least. She clearly had dreams of her own. And they couldn’t wait a moment longer.
Muguruza said: ‘I can’t put into words what this day means to me. You work all your life to be here. For Spain and for me this is just amazing.
‘This is the place where Rafa has been champion so many times.
‘I’m so, so excited. To play a Grand Slam against one of the best players, it’s the perfect final, I’m so, so happy.’
Time and again Williams has seemed on the verge of equalling the great Steffi Graf’s 22 Grand Slams. So near yet so far for Serena.
She could only say:’Congratulations to Garbine, she played very well. It’s very important for me to thank the public today as well as my team.’
Unsurprisingly Serena was almost in tears at that point. A hat-trick of high-profile defeats in the last three Slams must have been hard to take. She can’t hold back time forever.
But did she get her tactics wrong?
First we must take into account the likelihood that Serena was suffering from an adductor injury (a muscle in her hip). Maybe she decided that a baseline shoot-out was as much as she could manage.
But surely, in spite of that or perhaps because of that, Williams should have tried more drop shots. She should have drawn Muguruza into the net, which is way outside Garbine’s baseline comfort zone.
Wonderful player as Muguruza is, she doesn’t yet have the subtlety and confidence of a champion at the net.
However, if you choose to trade with a younger player who possesses as much power as you, if you decide not to risk it and mix it up more, you are playing into her hands. That, in effect, is what Serena did.
And it wasn’t as though Muguruza was without vulnerability. Even as she took control of the second set to consolidate a break, she served her eighth double fault.
But Williams was making more unforced errors – 22 in the first set alone to Garbine’s 15. She was getting her angles wrong.
And in Muguruza she was facing an opponent who has come of age and wasn’t about to crumble.
Regular readers of WDH blogs – including this year’s on Roland Garros – will know that we have long been singing the praises of Muguruza, and warning that she remainss chief threat to Williams’ dominance.
Garbine is very possibly Serena’s long-term successor at the top. In real terms, whatever the rankings say, it may already have happened.
This special day was always going to be historic. And we may well have just witnessed a landmark changing of the guard – just as we suggested a day earlier might be the case.
Who would be surprised if the same pair play each other again in a few weeks time in the Wimbledon final or semi?
And with Serena out for revenge, what an occasion that would be. Best get your tickets now!
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