Saturday, June 4, 2016

Over the head and on the line--Muguruza wins French Open in style

Garbine Muguruza announced her intentions right away in today's French Open women's final: She won the coin toss and elected to receive against the tour's greatest server. The message was clear. Of course, Serena Williams--unfazed by the message--proceeded to hold, and included an ace in her first service game.

Muguruza got the first break when Williams double-faulted while serving at 2-all, then went up 4-2, only to have Williams broke her back, then held. Facing Serena Williams at 4-5 has been the undoing of many good players. Just the sight of the world number 1 on the other side of the net seems to produce errors that preclude winning a set. Not so Muguruza--she cruised through her next game, then broke her opponent.

This is when the Spaniard became "nervious," as she likes to put it.  Nevertheless, she took the set on her third set point.

This was already a very high quality match, but it was about to get even better. Muguruza began the second set by breaking Williams, but one of her many (nine total) double faults resulted in her getting broken herself. But Williams was unable to consolidate the break. If there was a turning point in the set, it occurred at that time; Muguruza and Williams proceeded to hold their serves, and being down 2-4 still placed the top seed in the "I can win this" zone. I say that because she's returned from worse spots than this, and taken control of a big match.

Muguruza, though, would have none of it. She's beaten Williams in the 2014 French Open, so she knew what was possible. The Spaniard's huge hitting and keen court geometry were clear; the question: Could she hold her nerve? Williams had beaten her in the Wimbledon final, not to mention that Muguruza is known for sometimes just "getting off the bus" before the trip is completed.

Not this time, though she was certainly put to a stringent test. Serving at 3-5, Williams saved four championship points, largely thanks to her on-point forehand.

On these occasions, it's often a lot easier to win by breaking than to have to serve for the championship. Again, Muguruza's nerves were put to the test when she served at 5-4 in the second set. And again, she passed the test, with flying red and gold colors. Leaving the best for last, Muguzuza's championship point was a perfectly hit lob that sailed way over Williams' head and landed right on the baseline. It was a very stylish moment.

Muguruza, for all her missed opportunities and sullen "disappearances" in matches, was almost certainly going to experience this moment--and sooner than later. There's a smoothness about the Spaniard's style that puts her in a position to win big matches. Yes, she's a power hitter, but she's also a thinker, and she can hit some keen angles and change direction quickly. Muguruza, at her best, makes it look easy.

There's also this: Muguruza barely missed being the Wimbledon champion. If you're that good on both grass and clay, you kind of have "champion" stamped on your head.

Oddly, the French Open is the first clay tournament Mugurza has ever won. Also odd--prior to today, she had won only two events. Hers has been a "big stage" evolution, and one can expect her to go about things "backwards"--now, she can relax and win smaller tournaments. It's a strange path to take, but it seems to be working.

As for Williams--she's dealing with a thigh injury and needs to rest and heal in time for Wimbledon and the Olympic Games.

In the meantime, a young player with promise has broken through in a very big way, and that's quite refreshing. Bravo!


Todd.Spiker said...

Dare I say it, Lenglen would have been proud of that perfectly placed title-winning lob. ;)

Diane said...

I was thinking the same thing! That was one terrific match point.

Looking at those photos of Garbi in action, I'd be surprised if she doesn't do some yoga.