It’’s hard being great.
Serena Williams knows this like other mega sport stars know this.
Take Roger Federer. He’s been trying to top his 17 Grand Slam record for four years. At 35, for both Federer and Williams, the task becomes more difficult because the young ones, like 22-year-old Garbine Muguruza, have adopted the famed game styles, strategies and tactics they’ve watched for decades, hoping that one day they, too, could reach the pinnacle of their sport.
Today Muguruza put all that learning, desire, and blooming championship mental power to optimal use. She walloped Williams, 7-5, 6-4, to win her first-ever major.
“We were both very nervous,” Muguruza told NBC on court. “I was not thinking who I had in front [of me] or where I was playing.”
Unlike Mohammed Ali, “I’m so good, so great, it’s hard to be humble,” Serena displayed the utmost in sportsmanship.
“I’m happy for you,” Serena told Muguruza at the net. The comment looked sincere and authentic; Williams smiled sweetly.
But her gut must have been churning, knowing what was coming. The awards presentation. The press conference. She would have to switch into a familiar mode and don a tough skin. You really can’t see, and don’t want to see, her sobbing.
“Thanks to my coach, Patrick,” Serena said, with tears welling in her eyes during the awards’ presentation. “We didn’t win today, but we’ll try again next year.” She said little after that declaration.
The history books will favor Williams for decades and perhaps forever. When she finally captured her 18th Grand Slam (U. S. Open, 2014) and tied Chris Evert’s and Martina Navratilova’s record, she had lost three slams in a row. Williams has now lost 2 consecutive major finals, failing in the semifinal at the U. S. Open in 2015, as well.
Perhaps the reigning best — still Serena — needs a couple more losses before she emphatically smashes down her foot.
Again … the task can only get tougher, especially considering how well Muguruza played in the biggest of moments.
“I think she played the big points really well,” Serena told the press, The New York Times reported on Twitter.
Muguruza admitted on court, “It was a challenge.”
For her to have challenged and defeated the best player in the world, she had to draw on confidence and experience, which aren’t abundantly stockpiled in her young career’s court bag. She lost her first major final to Williams last year at Wimbledon, but she had beaten Williams at Roland Garros in the second round two years back. She knew the drill. She had to stay aggressive while maintaining a level of defense. That ability kept her in rallies and that’s what overwhelmed Serena — consistency of a superb game.
Muguruza was put to the ultimate test, as the second set played out and her double faults rose — 9 for the match. On top of that, championship points accumulated as the underlying possibility of a Serena comeback appeared more likely.
But Muguruza’s backhand, especially ones she sent down the lines, and her adeptness at staying in the moment edged her through to the 5th, and final, championship point. It was her first lob of the match and it clipped the line just behind Serena, an ironic end to an otherwise beastly ground-game barrage from Muguruza.
She had outhit the woman who outhits the game and had since she first turned pro in 1999. She had met power with more power. Mental strength with more mental strength. She revealed all the finest attributes necessary for a champion and a champion who dethrones a queen.
An easy way out for Serena’s loss would have been for her to lean on the adductor problem, which came up two days ago.
“Adductor or not, she played to win, and that’s what she did,” Williams said, The New York Times reported on Twitter.
Muguruza becomes only the second player born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam. She joins Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon winner. Muguruza also joins a short list of players who have defeated Williams twice at Roland Garros: Jennifer Capriati in the quarterfinals of 2001 and 2004; and, Justine Henin, in the semifinals of 2003 and the quarterfinals of 2007.
“We’re not looking at any one-slam wonder,” John McEnroe said, as he called the match for NBC. Mary Carillo, alongside McEnroe, let her enthusiasm loose, “She’s gobbling up the court isn’t she?”
Although Muguruza was born in Venezuela, she moved to Spain at a young age. She honestly comes by her red-clay prowess. When the Spanish national anthem filled Stade Roland Garros, a familiar sense engulfed the entire world of sports. It filled a void made when Rafael Nadal’s withdrew with a wrist injury from the tournament. He was missed, especially yesterday when he turned 30.
“Venezuela is in my heart,” Muguruza told NBC. “But for Spain this is special.”
Muguruza was composed throughout the match. An eerie sense of inevitability surrounded her from the first point to the last. Finally, shock spread across her face as that last ball clipped the baseline tape. She realized she’d done it. A few minutes later after the initial shock had worn off a little, she was asked by NBC how she would ‘process’ the win. “I’m going to start screaming,” she said, smiling.
True that 22-year-old Garbine Muguruza.