Two major titles to her name and already Garbine Muguruza stands alone. No other player has beaten both Williams sisters in the sport’s Grand Slam events. It is appropriate that it is the Venezuelan-born Spaniard who has achieved that claim to fame, having beaten Venus 6-4, 6-0 in Saturday’s Wimbledon women’s singles final to add to last year’s French Open final win against Serena.
The 23-year-old has been evasive when asked about the impact of the Williams’ on her career, while the frostiness Saturday’s beaten finalist conveyed after suffering an experience she had avoided in Grand Slam finals since her very first one against Martina Hingis in 1997 when losing a set to love, was the latest evidence that she has got under the sisters’ skin. Even so, she is very much a product of the environment they created.
Rather like Jonah Lomu, the man controversially branded a ‘freak’ by then England rugby captain Will Carling after bringing a new dimension to back play on the rugby field, the Williams sisters have set new standards in terms of what can be expected of women on a tennis court. The likes of Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf were magnificent athletes, but the Williams’ have ratcheted up the power.
Whether or not she modelled herself on what they have done Muguruza grew up in a tennis environment in which coaches had taken note of what they brought to the sport and were more aware of what they could demand of the right raw material, just as rugby coaches in the nineties started to realise that big men who had genuine pace might be better deployed in more open field, rather than the confined space in which forwards more commonly do battle. In that regard Muguruza was to emerge as the ideal tennis specimen and consequently received the right encouragement.
“At the beginning I was playing lobs. I was in defence, running, let’s say more Spanish style on clay courts… more physical, but then my body start to change,” she said of her tennis evolution. “I grew up a lot. My arms were longer. I felt like I had to adapt. Also the professional circuit, it’s not a lot on clay courts, it’s a lot on hard courts. I have to be more aggressive. I found my game going that way, more aggressive. I’m a tall person. Taking my chances. On grass, that actually works very well.”
Not least on the basis of that demolition of Williams in the second set, Muguruza will surely retain that unique place in tennis history since it seems exceedingly unlikely that Angelique Kerber, Sam Stosur, or Maria Sharapova – the only other women to have beaten Serena in a Grand Slam final – will meet Venus in one in the future.
As she reflected on what this success means for her, Muguruza paid tribute to their longevity, saying: “I don’t think anyone is going to dominate so long as Serena, that is just incredible. I just want to go out there in the Grand Slams and play well and hopefully end with the trophy.”
Blessed as she now appears to be with everything required in mental, as well as physical terms, to become the dominant force on the women’s tour, she will surely have that experience many more times in the years to come.