When Judy Murray tweeted “Muguruthless!” after last year’s French Open, it seemed like a star was born. Spain’s Garbine Muguruza had just beaten Serena Williams in a Grand Slam final, which doesn’t happen very often.
But – something which happens quite a lot – the new champion struggled to follow up her great triumph. She was dumped out of Wimbledon by the 124th seed, then exited the US Open at the hands of a player ranked No 48.
“All these responsibilities, all these emotions – it was hard for me to deal with this for the next tournaments,” said Muguruza, then 22, who would lose seven of her 15 post-Roland Garros matches.
“I wouldn’t change anything, obviously,” she added, referring to her title success. “Then I calmed down and then finally had the results.” Today she’s one match away from her second Slam. Only trouble is, she’s playing Serena’s big sister Venus.
Murray’s quip was a good one but in women’s tennis the Williams sisters deserve a whole language to themselves made up of special nicknames and superlatives. While Serena is off having a baby, Venus has been entrusted with brand continuity. She’s attempting to become the oldest winner of the title since 1908 when Charlotte Sterry cycled to the All England Club and claimed the trophy at the age of 37.
Williams is looking for her first Slam since Wimbledon nine years ago when she claimed her fifth crown here and seventh in total. But when she was diagnosed with the autoimmune condition Sjogren’s syndrome it seemed like the days of major wins were over.
“I had a lot of issues,” she admitted, “but this year has been amazing for me, playing deep into big events again. So I’m real excited about being here again in another final, trying to take one more step.
“There’s still work to be done but I’m focused. I have one more match and I’d like very much to be the winner. I’ll have to go out there and play well.”
So impressive in overcoming Britain’s Johanna Konta in the semi-finals, Williams added: “I take courage from the fact I’ve been playing well here and that so many moments have led to this. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to play well, be strong and to come into a final with experience. I think experience can either work for you or against you. I like to think it’s working for me.”
Many multi-Slam champs failed after their first win – including Serena. Indeed Venus, who backed up her maiden title with another, is almost in a club of one. Muguruza hailed her longevity, adding: “It’s very impressive. Not everybody can do that. I don’t think I could be 37 and playing at that level.
“She just loves to play and she enjoys going out there. Even though she’s achieved so many things, she’s still motivated to go for more, which is really surprising.”
Muguruza was asked to compare herself with the player who burst onto the scene in such spectacular fashion in Paris. “I’m different,” she said. “I think my mind is more equipped this time. The more experience you get, the more you know how to deal with certain situations, because they’re very special.”
Everyone said this would be a wide-open women’s tournament. Well, that’s proved 50 per cent correct because there’s still a Williams sister in the final.
But Muguruza has made it to the last day, too, and with all the hype and hullabaloo surrounding Konta she’s been able to get there her own sweet way. “I’ve tried not to see what people are saying or writing [because maybe] they have expectations on me. Maybe there are a few players who are playing better, and maybe they’ve looked better for the trophy or something. But I feel now that every time I go to a tournament, I have the weapons to reach the final stages.
“I’m feeling pretty good. I think it’s a good moment right now. It goes very fast so I’m trying to enjoy it. The previous times, you know, maybe I was so concentrated that I couldn’t enjoy them. I know I’m looking forward a lot to go on the court. It’s the last match here so I’ll try to change things after the last two years.”