Mugu­ruza’s time to shine

Spa­niard downs Venus Wil­liams to win first Wim­ble­don ti­tle.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

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 in the women’s sin­gles fi­nal over a fad­ing Venus Wil­liams by claim­ing the 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.”

It 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. She was 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.”

It was Mugu­ruza’s third fi­nal 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,” said Mugu­ruza, 23. “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 Satur­day, 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 on the match’s sec­ond point, and an­other at 114 mph in the third game — then win­ning both en­su­ing ex­changes.

Still, Wil­liams nearly took 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’ shots back. Not only get­ting it back, but it was deep in the court,” said David Witt, Wil­liams’ coach, who also said he 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 Mugu­ruza.

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 Juan Car­los, the for­mer king 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,” Wil­liams 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.”

Mugu­ruza

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