A sweet-smiling Spaniard by way of Venezuela came on to the Centre Court yesterday and ruined a fairytale. But such are the charms of 23-year-old Garbine Muguruza that the crowd quickly fell completely in love with her.
This was supposed to be Golden Oldies Weekend where two players with a combined age of 72 had the opportunity to achieve something “remarkable”, an adjective often used around these parts. Muguruza, though, hadn’t read the script or the splurge of words which seemed to be carrying Venus Williams on a tidal wave towards history – and with the utmost respect she destroyed the 37-year-old American’s bid to become the oldest woman champion of the open era.
Clasping the Rosewater Dish after the 7-5, 6-0 victory – the first time Williams had lost a set at Wimbledon to love – Muguruza said of her vanquished opponent: “I grew up watching her.” Then, turning to Williams, she added: “Sorry!”
The age gap that many hadn’t factored into the fairytale – so keen were they to see it play out – was evident by the time Muguruza hammered home her umpteenth winner with that exceptional backhand. This was an aggressive, exuberant, thrilling performance by the No.15 seed to which the great Rafael Nadal would surely add a rave notice to those which immediately came Muguruza’s way from Spanish royalty – the former King Juan Carlos – and Ibernian tennis royalty such as Manuel Santana and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.
Williams was gracious in defeat. “Well done today – beautiful,” she said, and now the All England Club must wait to see if Roger Federer can be the champion oldster today.
Yesterday was going to produce a great story whatever happened. On one side of the net was Williams, going for history, while on the other Muguruza was winsome confirmation that there are indeed women in Caracas.
For a generation of Scotsmen who grew up with Gregory’s Girl, the Venezuelan capital is a fabled place, just as it was to Gregory’s pals Andy and Charlie, who after learning that its women vastly outnumbered the men, decided to hitchhike there from Cumbernauld, although fatally their scrawled cardboard sign read “Caracus”.
Muguruza was born in Caracas which according to exhaustive research has also produced six holders of the Miss Universe title. She could probably spell Wimbledon “Wumbledan” and in this most formal of clubs get away with it. She persuades her many admirers that the heavy strapping on her left thigh is in itself elegant. Her dimpled smile might well its own Twitter account.
But Muguruza – torn between her mother’s Venezuelan roots and the Basque ones of her father before electing to play team competitions for Spain – has no interest in such incidentals, as her dismissal of a question about a Best-Dressed Woman in Tennis poll confirmed. She wanted this prize, as her first thumping backhand confirmed.
The forehand, though, needed bedding in. A couple sailed over the baseline under no real pressure and Williams was definitely targeting that side. The serves were dominant and neither woman when returning could threaten, or even get to deuce. But then the shot of the match thus far as Muguruza tried to make up for her second double-fault, firing that backhand deep into the corner – only for Williams to somehow dig out a sizzling crosscourt winner. But Muguruza held her nerve – and serve.
When Muguruza threatened next game Williams – who likes to stroll, saunter and save her energy these days – rose to the challenge with a masterclass of volleying, even winning a point where she was twice lobbed. This game went to deuce. She would serve three double-faults, face the final’s first break point but come through the test with a fine backhand. Muguruza may excel at the shot but Williams was hitting them at Wimbledon when her opponent was three years old.
After the discomfort of the last service game, Williams won her next to love. Leading 5-4, she knew exactly what was required to take the first set from such a position. She got to 15-40 without much trouble. This was the kind of pickle, against Johanna Konta, which Williams sorted out with a killer 103 mph second serve. Muguruza’s second serve wasn’t anything like as fierce but she wrestled control of an electric, 19-shot rally to bring the backhand into play and take the point.
The final was hotting up. Next game Muguruza got to break-point but the forehand let her down. It didn’t look she could beat a player of the Williams’ calibre with it but another break-point arrived. After another thundering rally the advantage was hers.
Williams made her fight for the clinching game as you’d expect. There were three more exceptional rallies, one concluded with an extraordinary recovery from Muguruza. It was all she could do to lob to the diagonally opposite corner. The set was hers.
Muguruza had been fearless in saving those two break points but surely Williams would stage a comeback now. Surely Muguruza – who’d wore a Grand Slam crown once before, finding it too heavy and oppressive – would wobble. Not a bit.
The second set opened with some drama with Muguruza – for the second time in the match – calling a ball out that the line-judges had missed. That forced Williams on to her second serve which she plopped into the net, handing her dynamic opponent another break. Muguruza had her tail up and two lovely backhands put more pressure on Williams the next time she served and she buckled again.
Muguruza was pushing Williams into corners of the court she’d last inhabited some time ago. The crowd broke into spontaneous cheering to try and lift the old warrior. Even Muguruza’s supporters probably joined in; no-one likes to see a legend crumble this way. But the fairytale was over and Wimbledon had a vivacious new queen.