Only motivation stands between Garbine Muguruza and more major wins
LONDON -- When Garbine Muguruza walked off Centre Court two years ago after losing to Serena Williams 6-4, 6-4 in her first Grand Slam final, she did so in tears. But she also walked away from the All England Club being touted as the player most likely to take the reins when the woman standing next to her decided to call it a career. The seven-time Wimbledon champ even told Muguruza as much that afternoon.
"She told me one day I was going to win, and here I am two years later," Muguruza said Saturday after defeating Venus Williams 7-5, 6-0 to capture her first Wimbledon title, this time smiling charismatically in her postmatch interview. Two years more experienced, more confident, more controlled in her game -- and now a two-time Grand Slam champion.
But is the 23-year-old Spaniard also ready to become a consistent winner and the face of the women's game? Throughout the past two years, Muguruza has showed flashes of the player she was expected to become after that Wimbledon loss. She won her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in 2016 and held the world No. 2 ranking for four weeks. But she also failed to make the semifinals of every other Grand Slam she entered, dropped to No. 15 in the world and lost far too many tournaments in the first and second rounds.
"We all thought she was going to carry on that momentum [after Wimbledon in 2015] and she didn't," three-time Wimbledon champion and ESPN analyst Chris Evert said. "Then last summer she won the French and we all thought she was going to carry on and the torch was going to be handed over to her. And she didn't. This is the third time. She has to embrace the challenge of being the player to beat. I don't think she was prepared for it two years ago like she is today."
Over the Wimbledon fortnight, Muguruza played like a woman ready to shed the tag of a big-match underdog. She dropped only one set -- in the fourth round to then-world No. 1 Angelique Kerber -- and played relentlessly on the attack. On Saturday afternoon, Muguruza walked onto Centre Court with the mindset of a champion who knew what it felt like to win and to lose against a Williams sister in a Grand Slam final, and that she did not want her day to end in tears of defeat once again.
"Since I lost the final here, I wanted to change that," Muguruza said after her win. "I came thinking, 'I'm prepared. I feel good.' During the tournament, I was feeling better and better. Every match, I was increasing my level. I didn't want to lose this time, because I know the difference. I really know the difference of making a final."
With her wins at the 2016 French Open and here at Wimbledon, she becomes the only player ever to have beaten both Williams sisters in the final of a Slam.
"The way she played [Saturday] will give her confidence, the lack of errors in her game," Evert said. "She's always had that power, but she's never been able to harness it. She has every aspect of her game working on a very high level right now and she's got to keep it up. If she's hungry and wants to be No. 1 and take advantage of this gap there is now, she will."
After a Grand Slam win, players typically react in one of two ways, Evert said, by becoming supercharged with a desire to do it again or by relaxing into their success. Serena has won more Slams in the Open era than anyone, fueled not by a love of winning but by being a proud fighter with a well-documented hatred of losing that cuts far deeper than her love for hoisting a trophy. In order to remain at the top, Muguruza must figure out what kind of champion she is and then learn to harness what it is that motivates her to return home after a Grand Slam win hungry for more.
"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," Muguruza said. "But that's a good problem to have. I was so excited to go out there and win, especially over somebody like a role model. I'm just very surprised that [Venus] is hungry to keep winning. I don't know if I will be like this with her age."
At the moment, Muguruza needs only to find the internal drive to be like her now.