Nine months after claiming a remarkable triumph at Roland-Garros, 23-year-old Garbiñe Muguruza has still not lifted another trophy. Sam Sumyk protégée’s has been learning to put things into perspective and manage the expectations that inevitably come with winning a maiden Grand Slam title.
Garbine Muguruza aims to conquer "old demons"
“I just have to keep my head clear – I know that the good results will come, because I’m playing at the right level. My old demons resurface from time to time but now I’m just trying to fight for every last point,” Garbiñe Muguruza told Spanish sport newspaper Marca at the end of February, as part of a discussion about her start to season, and more generally, the difficult months that followed her phenomenal victory at Roland-Garros in June 2016.
Since then, the Spaniard has not reached one single final on the circuit, and was forced to withdraw from her semi-final against Alizé Cornet in Brisbane and from her second-round clash with Kateryna Bondarenko in Dubai, due to niggling injuries (right thigh and left Achilles tendon respectively) typical of those that have hampered her play over the past few months.
Despite this, Muguruza did not hold back when it came to improving her physical condition during the off-season, even going as far as to make drastic changes to her diet. “There are quite a lot of things that I’ve stopped eating. For example, I don’t eat flour or sweets anymore, or drink fizzy drinks. Before, I ate like any other girl – if I felt like having a pizza, I’d eat one,” she said, hopeful that these types of sacrifices will pay off in the long term. “I didn’t lose any weight but I built up my muscles. I’m fitter now. In Doha, I took part in two matches on the same day. I completed five sets, and I finished in pretty good shape, whereas two years ago I would probably have ended up on a stretcher.”
Very mindful of recovery time, Muguruza still hauls around the equipment that she needs with her on her travels, such as an electro-stimulation unit. “Some people ask me why I travel with so many things, but I tell them that it enables me to have everything I need without having to borrow stuff from the doctors or physios.”
“I don’t want to turn into a robot and just constantly say that I’m happy"
Since becoming the French Open champion last summer, the expectations surrounding Muguruza have changed. Propelled to No.2 in the world after her victory in Paris, the Venezuelan-born player feels that she dealt with the extra attention that came her way quite well, even though she has learned to protect herself by avoiding articles about her in the press and by only using social media for professional purposes. “I feel like I get a lot of criticism in Spain,” she said. “One day they hate me and the next day they love me; there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. That used to tire me out and so I ended up giving up on it – I don’t read anything, and so I’m pretty unaffected by it. Sometimes I get misunderstood but I accept that, and it’s not a big deal. I don’t want to turn into a robot and just constantly say that I’m happy. The other day, I was talking about this with some fans and they said I was right. When I lose, the headlines are awful, but as soon as I start winning again, you see headlines like ‘Incredible from Garbine!'"
Now seventh in the world, the Grand Slam winner will have lots of points to defend in Paris but she would prefer not to think about it too much. “If I play well and I have the right attitude, I know that the results will take care of themselves. That’s why I don’t want to think about Roland-Garros. If I don’t win there this year, I’ll have the whole second part of the season to earn points, because last year I didn’t have great results,” Muguruza explained. If her body does not cause her further trouble, she knows that she has the beating of anyone on her day. Because that is the prerogative of champions.