SERENA Williams told Garbine Muguruza two years ago that she would come back to Centre Court one day and lift the title. But she can’t have imagined it would happen quite so soon and at her own sister’s expense.
This was lazily assumed to be the day that Venus Williams, 37 years young, wrote her name once more into the history books by superseding her pregnant sister Serena as the oldest-ever winner of the Venus Rosewater dish. But in the first-ever Wimbledon singles final played entirely under the Centre Court roof, this 23-year-old Spaniard of Venezuelan extraction throughly rained on her parade to claim a sensational 7-5, 6-0 victory.
It was one of sport’s strange co-incidences that, with her regular coach Sam Sumyk absent as his wife prepares to give birth, she cuddled her stand-in coach Conchita Martinez afterwards. Martinez was the last Spanish winner of this title, victorious that year against a 37-year-old Martina Navratilova. Did she have a message for her coach, Sue Barker asked. “Here it is,” she said, holding the silverware up to the camera.
There has been no doubting this supremely athletic and highly marketable 23-year-old’s potential for world domination ever since she burst on the scene by disposing of Serena Williams at Roland Garros two years ago, but this victory still represents quite a tournaround. Muguruza’s prospects for a glory run on the grass at SW19 looked slim when she was demolished 6-1, 6-0 by Barbora Strycova in Eastbourne only a fortnight ago. Yet here she was, planning an impromptu shopping splurge on a dress for tonight’s Champions dinner and dreaming of a traditional twirl on the dance floor with the men’s winner. No disrespect to Marin Cilic, but she would rather her partner was Roger Federer.
“Who would I like to dance with more?” she asked. “Oh, c’mon. Ok, Roger. And I like Cilic, I have to say seriously. But I want to see if he [Roger] is that elegant also dancing.”
“But I have to go and buy myself a dress,” the Spaniard added. “I don’t have one. I am going to enjoy myself. I didn’t enjoy myself enough when I won Roland Garros.”
So total was the No 14 seed’s domination of the five-time Wimbledon champion by the end that the age gap between the players looked every bit of those 14 years. Considering how evenly fought a first set in which she spurned two set points had been, a million conspiracy theories were thrown up to explain why Venus had appeared so listless during the second, claiming just 12 of the 38 points available. Was it tiredness? The slipperiness of the badly-damaged court which she had asked the umpire to check out beforehand? Could it be trauma from the fatal car crash she was involved in shortly before the tournament? Or maybe it was a sudden outbreak of Sjogren’s Syndrome, the auto-immune problem she suffers from?
In truth it could have been any, or none, of the above. But with her serve far from the fluent weapon it was against Jo Konta in the semi-final, from the two sloppy forehands which cost those set points as Muguruza served at 4-5, and another forehand mistake in the next game which allowed the Spaniard to serve for it instead, it became pretty clear that she didn’t really want to be here. From the point where she abandoned her serve in its opening game, the second set was a disaster.
She didn’t particularly want to be in her post match press conference either, having to be forced to admit that the second set bagel “wasn’t the ideal scoreline”. “I definitely would have loved to have converted some of those [set] points,” said the 37-year-old. “But she competed really well. So credit to her. She just dug in there and managed to play better.” Asked in what way she was “trying to be more like Serena”, as she said in her courtside interview, she said: “Pretty much just win the match, yeah.”
It has been said before, possibly even by me, but Muguruza appears primed to pick up the vacancy which the Williams sisters will eventually leave at the top of this sport. She said that working with Martinez had added some more mental support on top of Sumyk’s usual work and feels that playing on the show courts of world tennis is where she brings her best tennis. The proof was the manner in which she had embraced the challenge of bringing down one of her idols, rather than being afraid of it. “When I knew I was playing Venus in the final, I was actually looking forward for it,” she said. “You know, people were surprised when I said that in French Open too, when I had Serena in the final. Venus won five times, she knows how to play. It was a challenge to play her, having grown up watching her. I was excited to go out there and win, especially over a role model. Once I go to the big court, I feel good. I feel like that’s where I want to be, that’s what I practice for.”
Muguruza will be back here next year. As, presumably, will a 38-year-old Venus. “Presumably, yes,” she said, before walking out of the room.