Originally Published: July 16, 2017 6:01 a.m.
LONDON — As a kid, Garbine Muguruza sat in awe in front of the TV as the Williams sisters accumulated Grand Slam titles. They were her role models.
Now Muguruza is all grown up, an emerging tennis star in her own right — and, as of Saturday, the only woman who can boast of beating each Williams in a major final.
Muguruza powered her way to her first Wimbledon championship by playing fearlessly and dominating down the stretch, putting together a 7-5, 6-0 victory over a fading Venus Williams by claiming the final’s last nine games.
“It’s great to go out there and play somebody that you admire,” Muguruza said. “I knew she was going to make me suffer and fight for it.”
This was Williams’ 16th Grand Slam final and ninth at the All England Club. At 37, she was bidding for her sixth title at the grass-court major, 17 years after her first. And she was so close to gaining the upper hand against Muguruza, holding two set points at 5-4 in the opener. But Muguruza fought those off and never looked back.
“She competed really well. So credit to her,” Williams said. “She just dug in there.”
For Muguruza, this final was her third at a major.
In her first, at Wimbledon in 2015, she lost to Williams’ younger sister, Serena. But in her second, at the French Open last year, Muguruza again faced Serena — and won. That was the most recent final Muguruza had played in at any tournament until Saturday, an indication of the sort of up-and-down 12 months she’s had.
But with stand-in coach Conchita Martinez pushing her to play each point on its own merits — don’t look back, don’t think ahead — Muguruza was able to regain her best form these two weeks. Taking the ball early, being aggressive from the start of each point and not relenting, Muguruza did to Williams what the American and her sibling often do to their opponents.
Here was how Muguruza’s on-court approach was described by Spanish Fed Cup and Davis Cup captain Martinez, whose 1994 Wimbledon title was the country’s most recent for a woman until Saturday: “She’s very brave.”
Especially against Williams.
Especially in crunch time.
“I was just very composed,” the 23-year-old Muguruza said. “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. That’s where I play good. ... I’m happy to go to the Centre Court and to play the best player. That’s what motivates me.”
With the roof shut because of rain earlier in the day, each thwack of racket strings against ball by the two big hitters created echoes around the old arena.
Williams began the proceedings with an ace. But Muguruza showed she would not be overwhelmed, returning a serve at 113 mph (182 kph) on the match’s second point, and another at 114 mph (184 kph) in the third game — then winning both ensuing exchanges.
Still, Williams was so close to taking the first set, ahead 5-4 while Muguruza served at 15-40. On the first chance, a 20-stroke point ended when Williams blinked first, putting a forehand into the net. On the second set point, Williams sent a return long.
It was as if getting out of that jam freed up Muguruza — and failing to capitalize deflated Williams, who didn’t win a game the rest of the way.
“She was getting every one of Venus’s shots back. Not only getting it back, but it was deep in the court,” said David Witt, Williams’ coach, who thought nerves affected his player. “Venus kept having to play that one extra ball.”
Williams began spraying shots to unintended spots, while Muguruza stayed steady. Williams finished with 25 unforced errors, 14 more than the champion.
It ended when Williams hit a shot that landed long, but was ruled in. Muguruza challenged the call, and after a bit of a delay, the review showed the ball was, indeed, out. Made to wait to celebrate, Muguruza eventually dropped her knees and covered her crying eyes.
Soon enough, Muguruza was shown her name on the list of winners in the stadium’s lobby — “Finally!” she said — and being greeted by former King Juan Carlos of Spain.
It was an anticlimactic conclusion to the fortnight for Williams, Wimbledon’s oldest female finalist since Martina Navratilova, 37, was the runner-up to Martinez in 1994. Williams hadn’t made it this far at the All England Club since 2009, hadn’t won the title since 2008.
“A lot of beautiful moments in the last couple of weeks,” the American said.
Muguruza can say the same, of course, and she was particularly thrilled at the thought of the player she beat to earn the trophy.
“When I knew I was playing Venus in the final, I was actually looking forward (to) it,” Muguruza said. “Something incredible.”