AO 2022: Muguruza high on belief

Former world No.1 looks to carry the momentum from her strong 2021 into the new year

Garbiñe Muguruza / Entraînement Open d'Australie 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

It doesn’t take long talking to Garbine Muguruza these days to realise that she is in a good headspace.

The Spanish former world No.1 can instantly charm a room with her rhetoric, and has engaged in long, thoughtful conversations with the press over the past few months, as she slowly gathered steam towards pulling off a huge title victory at the WTA Finals in Guadalajara last November.

Guadalajara wasn’t Muguruza’s biggest career title – she is a two-time Grand Slam champion after all. But it was her biggest in over four years and it came with some powerful emotions as the Venezuela-born Spaniard connected with the Mexican crowd like never before.

Finishing the year with a prestigious trophy by besting her fellow top-eight peers helped Muguruza prove to herself that she was back to being the ‘maestra’, as she described it; the best, the master, a boss.

The triumph catapulted her back to No.3 in the world and gave her a momentum push she vowed to carry into 2022.

The 28-year-old may have not won a major last season, but the three titles she captured from five finals reached, along with the joy and stability she felt on and off the court gave her the feeling that 2021 was her “best year” to date.

Garbiñe Muguruza / Masters Guadalajara©Rob Prange / FFT

Learning to adapt

Talking to reporters in Melbourne over the weekend ahead of her Australian Open Tuesday first round against French youngster Clara Burel, Muguruza reflected on what particularly helped her enjoy success on the court last season.

“I felt like I played my game style. I feel like I also adapted better to the moments where I couldn't do my game style, so I adapted and found a way to stay on every single moment and never feel like it's not going my way or whatever,” she explained.

“I think that's the confidence maybe that you were talking about. But you cannot always do your game style. There are moments where you have to adapt and you have to be open for that. I feel like last year I was very open for any tough moment. I would handle it the best way I could, and that's it.”

While many players tend to reset at the start of every new season, and see it a clean slate that allows them to start from zero, Muguruza prefers a different approach.

“I don't feel like every year that I start I have different goals or I start from zero. I feel like a career is a continuation and a progression. I feel like I have the same big goals I had since I started to play WTAs, which is winning the big titles, getting the titles I still don't have and all of that,” said the 2016 Roland-Garros champion.

That mentality is perhaps the key for Muguruza to carry her form from 2021 into this campaign. She has learned to enjoy herself more on tour and has a clearer vision of how to maintain that stability she showcased last year.

Clutch mentality

Muguruza has found a way to get back to being at the crucial moments in a match, and she attributes that to two things.

“I think that the first one is working hard every moment, every day that you feel you're tired, every day you're like, ‘Man, I want to go to the mall and I don't want to be here’. These days that give you the strength,” she says.

“You know, the hard work and the security that you have done the job. The homework, like I would say. That gives you some sort of certainty of, ‘Okay, whatever happens, I did the job and I'm ready to face those tough moments’.

“And the second is I feel personality of each player. There are players that play aggressive and they go for the points. Some players that play more defensive and they hesitate maybe a little bit. That's the character that defines sometimes those moments.”

Ambitious in Aus

Muguruza landed in the bottom half of the Australian Open draw, and she shares a quarter with in-form No.6 seed Anett Kontaveit, whom she defeated in the championship match at the WTA Finals two months ago.

She could take on former world No.1 Simona Halep in the fourth round before a possible quarter-final showdown with Kontaveit. The likes of Iga Swiatek or Aryna Sabalenka could await in the semis.

Two years ago, Muguruza led Sofia Kenin by a set in the Australian Open final before succumbing to the American in three. While it remains a sour memory for the Spaniard, Muguruza believes it instilled a great sense of belief within her that she could one day go on to life the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup at Melbourne Park.

Garbiñe Muguruza WTA Finals 2021©Jimmie 48 Tennis Photography

“It isn't a sweet memory, that's for sure. I reflected. It was a tough tournament for me,” confessed Muguruza.

“I started in a very so-so way and managed to, every round, get better and better, and then found myself in the final. A very strange final. It's not a sweet memory, but it is a great tournament, and it gives you the certainty that you can play well here, and I felt a lot of support from the crowd. It was amazing, and hopefully I can win it one day.

“I've done it and I believe more than ever that I can do it again.”