July 15, 2017
It must go down as one of the greatest performances in Grand Slam final history, because Garbine Muguruza had everything.
Impossibly brave in the first set against the odds, and utterly ruthless in the second when she sensed a hint of submission from her proud adversary.
Muguruza needed everything, too, in order to turn the tide and ultimately crush a plucky and powerful Venus Williams.
At the end of her 7-5, 6-0 victory, secured thanks to a successful baseline challenge, the younger woman fell to her knees in tears of disbelief, before quickly recovering to meet Williams at the net.
Garbine covered her eyes, looked through her fingers to the heavens, and took in the enormity of her achievement. Wimbledon champion! A sip of water and a shake of the head. She had done it.
This time, she hadn’t been blasted off court by a Williams. What Serena had done with such devastating ease in Muguruza’s previous final, Venus had not managed to emulate, hard as she had tried and brilliantly as Venus had played in an unforgettable first set.
A breathtaking match turned on a 19-shot rally, as Venus looked to close out the first of two set points at 5-4 in the opener.
At 15-40, facing one bludgeoning blow after another, Muguruza simply refused to submit, until Venus finally wilted and failed to clear the net.
Garbine found a bigger serve on the second set point and Venus fired too long. These were moments the elder Williams sister would regret, and it seemed that she never entirely put them behind her.
Before we knew it, Muguruza had two set points of her own, after somehow turning an amazing defensive backhand into a winner.
Venus switched on the power to save the first. But after more heroic defence, she dabbed a shot fatally into the net, and the epic battle was as good as over.
It was one thing to hope that a 37-year-old could maintain an unprecedented level of physical intensity and athleticism for a set – perhaps even two. But three? Venus knew she couldn’t do it, and played with that sense of dread in the second set.
At 0-3 down, however, Williams produced an incredible point, complete with drive-volley and forehand winner. It was her last piece of serious resistance, because she simply couldn’t hold her own indefinitely against a relentless onslaught from the other side of the net.
Has a tennis ball ever been hit so hard, so many times, as it flew between two great champions? The crowd on Centre Court were open-mouthed in awe of what they were seeing.
How far the women’s game has come. What spectacular entertainment these magnificent players served up.
Sure, we were all sad that the second set and therefore the final ended with a bagel. But time had caught up with Venus, as we knew it finally would.
We had warned that Muguruza would win, if Venus let her play her best tennis. The American almost managed to stem the tide in the first. Indeed Muguruza herself contributed to the drama by hitting her forehand too long on countless occasions, leaving the match in the balance.
But mentally, the Spaniard, with the great Conchita Martinez in her camp, was razor-sharp and refused to be intimidated by her own imperfections.
So the woman who played the best tennis in the semi-finals, as we pointed out at the time, also won the final. Justice was served. Tennis was served too, in delicious portions, and the entire Centre Court crowd knew they had seen something truly special.
Heroic resistance, lethal attack…Garbine Muguruza had it all. And there was nothing more Venus could have done, despite her noble efforts.
Garbine admitted: ‘I think I had today the hardest match against Venus. She is such an incredible player, I grew up watching her play. It was incredible to play her in the final. Two years ago I lost to Serena in the final. She said maybe one day I will win. So here I am.’
That must have been tough for Venus to hear, and Serena too, as she watched back home. But Venus sportingly said:’Congratulations Garbine, amazing.’
And so she was. In fact, you would struggle to come up with a star who has ever played better in a Wimbledon final, when you take into account the sheer ferocity of the action.