2019 may not be remembered by most as the season of Garbine Muguruza. But perhaps it should be. The Spaniard started the year as a relative unknown, ranked 63rd in the world. She had not reached a tour-level final, been past the second round at a Grand Slam or made the quarterfinals at Premier Mandatory or a Premier 5 event. But by the end of the season, she had established herself as a force to be reckoned with in the women’s game.
And crucial to her emergence as one of the world’s best was one match. It came in the second round at the French Open. Her opponent: none other than Serena Williams.
Heading into 2014 Roland Garros
Muguruza had put together a solid 2013 campaign, breaking into the world’s top 100 for the first time and finishing the year inside the top 70. But she had made little impact at the top of the game. That began to change at the start of 2014. At the Hobart International, after qualifying into the main draw, Muguruza stormed into her first WTA final without dropping a set, before comfortably beating Klara Zakopalova, 6-0 6-4, in the final to claim her maiden tour-level title.
She maintained that fine form at the Australian Open. In her opener in Melbourne, she beat the 24th seed Kaia Kanepi, before easing past Anna Karolina Schmiedlova to make the third round. There she faced tenth seed and former-world #1 Caroline Wozniacki. Muguruza, despite sitting at a career-high world #38, was unsurprisingly the underdog. But the Spaniard rallied from a set down to beat Wozniacki in three, reaching the second week at a Major for the first time in her career in the process.
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She fell short there up against eventual semifinalist Agnieszka Radwanska, losing in straight-sets. But it nonetheless marked a superb start to the season for Muguruza, with her Australian Open exploits leaving her on the cusp of breaking into the world’s top 30. And she continued to impress, reaching the final at the Brasil Tennis Cup, although Zakopalova avenged her Hobart defeat with a 4-6 7-5 6-0 win to deny Muguruza her second title of the season.
Muguruza had certainly established herself as one to watch ahead of the French Open. But her momentum had rather stalled over the clay-court swing. Williams, in contrast, arrived in Paris having won four of the last seven Grand Slams. She had suffered the disappointment of losing in the fourth round at the Australian Open, but she had rebounded from that defeat by winning the Miami Open, before thrashing Sara Errani in the Italian Open final.
Williams opened her campaign at the French Open with a comprehensive win over Alize Lim. Muguruza, meanwhile, edged out the American qualifier Grace Min, 7-5 7-6 to set up her second meeting with Williams. In the first, which had come a year earlier in the second round at the Australian Open, Williams had easily beaten Muguruza, losing only two games in a 6-2 6-0 win. But Muguruza clearly had no intention of allowing a repeat of that humiliation.
Muguruza came out firing, breaking the Williams serve in the third game of the match to take a 2-1 lead. She continued to apply pressure to Williams, with the world #1 cracking under the strain. Muguruza broke again midway through the set for a 4-1 lead and she closed out the first set shortly thereafter, winning it 6-2. In the second set, it was more of the same. Muguruza won the first three games, twice breaking Williams’ serve, to take a stranglehold on the match.
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Williams, not for nothing one of the greatest players in the history of the game, did her best to get back into the match. But although she broke back, Muguruza’s determination did not waver. The Spaniard immediately restored her two-break lead, eventually sealing a seismic 6-2 6-2 win. Throughout, she served superbly and demonstrated a rare willingness and ability to match Williams’ groundstrokes. Indeed, she was the aggressor for much of the match.
Williams appeared unused to being dictated to in that manner. But Muguruza was unrelenting and Williams had no answers. It was, in short, a spectacular performance from the Spaniard.
Garbine Muguruza went onto reach the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, giving eventual champion Maria Sharapova a run for her money before falling to a three-set defeat. She finished the year ranked 20th in the world, but that was just the beginning for Muguruza. A year later, she reached the final at Wimbledon, only for Williams to have her revenge, winning in straight-sets. But the Spaniard did not have to wait much longer for her first Major title.
In 2016, she stormed to the French Open title, beating Williams 7-5 6-4 in the final. A year later, she beat Venus Williams 7-5 6-0 in the final at the All England Club to claim her second Major and that September she claimed the world #1 ranking, which she held for four weeks. 2018 and 2019 proved to be lean years for Muguruza, although she did claim back-to-back titles in Monterrey. But before the 2020 season was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Muguruza reached the final at Melbourne Park.
Williams too has enjoyed plenty of success since, both on and off the court. Indeed, she has won six Grand Slam titles since that day in Paris and seven WTA titles. She has also finished as runner-up at a further six Majors, including twice at Wimbledon and once at the US Open after returning from maternity leave, further cementing her position as a legendary figure in the women’s game.
As for the current head to head between Muguruza and Williams? It’s very tight. They have met six times, with the head-to-head tied at three wins apiece. Remarkably, five of those six matches have come at the Majors, with the sole exception their most recent meeting, which Muguruza won via retirement in Indian Wells last season. Williams initially enjoyed the better of the rivalry, winning three of the first four, but Muguruza has won the last two.
It’s always interesting to see who’s going to win the battle from the baseline when Muguruza and Williams play. Both look to dictate play and hit winners off the ground. But the second-round clash at the 2014 French Open was nothing other than a beat down. Muguruza annihilated the #1 player in the world and it was the making of her. She wasn’t just rising up the rankings. She was rising with every intention to stay at the top.
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