Rising star: Garbine Muguruza - Already among the big guns
Because they are young and brimming with talent, and because their styles of play, careers or simply their natural affinities point to success on clay in general and at Roland-Garros in particular, Rolandgarros.com has picked out 20 rising stars – 10 young women and 10 young men – to keep a close eye on throughout the year. Already a fixture in the world’s top 5 and having been as high as No.3 in the WTA rankings, Garbine Muguruza is the most established player in our selection. And at the age of just 22, she seems to be ready to move up to the next level and follow in the footsteps of Arantxa Sanchez and Conchita Martinez.
Because no-one can forget her veritable master-class against Serena Williams on Suzanne-Lenglen Court in 2014, when she shot to prominence by inflicting a 6-2, 6-2 defeat on the world No.1. Because Garbine Muguruza followed up this display throughout the 2015 season, making the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros, the Wimbledon final and the semi-finals at the Masters – three results which helped her to shoot up from No.20 into the WTA’s top trio, and which also illustrate how well she adapts to different surfaces. Because with her build (1.82 m, 73 kg), the half-Spanish, half-Venezuelan is what the pundits describe as the future of women’s tennis, all intimidation and cutting edge. Because instead of panicking when she faces the big names on big courts in big tournaments, she seems to find the right conditions with which to play her best tennis. And finally because the sheer weight of expectation on her shoulders from the media, in a country which is desperate to find a successor to Conchita Martinez and in particular Arantxa Sanchez and her three French Open wins, seems to have no adverse effect on her whatsoever.
All of these reasons make it easy to see the Caracas-born player as the worthy successor to those two champions... and a future world No.1. Her French coach Sam Sumyk, not one given to easy praise, is happy to vaunt the advantages she has at her disposal, saying "I think she’s got everything she needs. She has real quality in her game and I also think that she’s a great athlete. She has also made progress on the mental side of her game, so I think that she’s got all the necessary ingredients".
Muguruza’s compatriots are equally keen to wax lyrical, including Conchita Martinez. "She’s her own hard task-master," the Spanish Fed Cup captain explains. "She constantly wants to do better and adversity helps her to step up her game. She wants to go far and she’s not going to stop until she does." Virginia Ruano Pascual, who has six French Open women’s doubles titles to her name, is happy to go even further in her forecasts. "She has a huge margin for progress," she says of Muguruza. "Judging by her game and the way women’s tennis is currently evolving, the chances of her being No.1 in the world sooner or later are extremely high."
Both her origins – Venezuelan on her mother’s side, Spanish Basque on her father’s – and her early tennis training – at the Bruguera Academy in Barcelona between the ages of 8 and 18 – would suggest that Muguruza ought to excel on clay. And this is indeed the case, despite the fact that her punchy brand of tennis is equally at home on faster surfaces. She has a booming service and is happiest at the baseline dictating the exchange with hitting as flat and as deep as possible, before coming in alertly to finish off the point.
According to Alejo Mancisidor, the Spaniard who coached her from 2010 – 2015, "she has a very attacking game that will work well in the future. She plays like a top 10 player ought to, taking the initiative and not allowing her opponent any time. It’s the opposite of the traditional Spanish-style game". His successor Sumyk goes more in-depth into the analysis. "Her forehand is one of her better shots, but it doesn’t stop there. She has plenty of strengths – she has a good backhand, she moves well… She can basically do what she wants and can put the ball where she wants."
When Muguruza is on form, she can steam-roller the very best, and has picked off virtually all of the top players already: Serena Williams as mentioned, but also Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep, Agnieszka Radwanska, Ana Ivanovic, Caroline Wozniacki and Lucie Safarova. Over the past two years, she has an impressive 57% win record over players in the top 10 (13 wins, 10 losses), even though she only joined that particular club in summer 2015. Another proof of her ability to rise to the occasion at big events is the Fed Cup. This particular team competition has always been a measuring stick, motivating some while inhibiting others, and Muguruza has a perfect record with four singles wins in four live rubbers (two of them coming against Jelena Jankovic and Simona Halep).
Career to date
"I have two older brothers who also play tennis. I was the youngest and I wanted to join them, so I started playing." Garbine was only three years old at the time and living in Venezuela. She was six when her parents moved to Barcelona, where she would go on to join the Bruguera Academy. As a junior however, she did not stand out (one ITF Grade 4 final at Benicarlo being her best result). As soon as she turned professional at 15 however, it was another story. In 2009, she managed a title, a final and three semis in $10,000 tournaments on clay. Though still quiet on the junior circuit, she began to rack up the pro titles on clay the following seasons (1 in 2010 and 4 in 2011). Her first hard-court title at the $25,000 in Clearwater in 2012 got her a wild card for the Miami Open, when she took her first scalps on the main circuit by surprising Vera Zvonareva and Flavia Pennetta, Nos.9 and 26 in the world respectively. Her progress continued in 2013, where she made the fourth round at Indian Wells and Miami, but an injury to her right ankle in July, with the top 50 in her sights, put her out of action for the rest of the season. To speed up her return to the courts, Muguruza opted for a solution that says a great deal about her passion for the game and her impatience to get back into the swing of things.
"I needed to start hitting again but without pushing my ankle, so I began playing sitting down. I couldn’t just stay home knowing that the other girls were training all-out and I wasn’t…" This tenacity paid off right from the beginning of the 2014 season, when she won her maiden WTA title on the Australian hard courts in Hobart in January. She then reached the fourth round of the Australian Open and the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros, forcing her way into the top 20 in the process.
After another quarter-final in Paris in 2015, Muguruza surprised even herself by making her first ever Grand Slam final at Wimbledon, defeating four members of the top 20 along the way (Kerber, Wozniacki, Timea Bacsinszky and Agnieszka Radwanska), only to come up against an unstoppable Serena Williams. At the end of the year, she began working with Sumyk (who has coached such notables as Zvonareva and Victoria Azarenka in the past) and immediately made the final in Wuhan, went one better in Beijing and reached the semi-finals of the WTA Masters – three results which put her on the podium of the WTA rankings at the end of the year.
What can we expect from her this year?
When you have already made the final of a Grand Slam, there is only one step left to take, and that is getting your hands on the silverware. No doubt that this will be Muguruza’s ambition as she prepares to play in her fifth French Open, and it is exactly what is expected of a top 5 player. Suffice to say that there is some pressure on her shoulders.
"That’s true, and I like the fact that people are keeping close tabs on me," she says. “I need to be in competition with others. This season is set to be different from 2015. I’m no longer the Garbine who might do this or that, I’ve become the Garbine who has to do this or that. I need to come to terms with this context and I want to see if I’m capable of having success when the spotlight is on me. I want to clear my head of what people are saying about me - ‘Garbine is going to win a Grand Slam, Garbine will be No.1 in the world’. People say that a lot and it’s only to be expected. It’s what I want as well, but sometimes I struggle to play at my very best over a long period of time. I need to be more consistent."
Consistency is indeed the key to her progress. After a particularly intensive end to the 2015 season (due to her doubles prowess, where she won in Tokyo and made the final of the WTA Masters with Carla Suarez Navarro), Muguruza has flattered to deceive a little early in 2016 (with a record of eight wins and six losses). But now that she is back on her favourite surface, it would be no surprise to see her dimpled smile getting wider and wider all the way to the Porte d’Auteuil, and through to the end of the Paris fortnight.