- Alix Ramsay

Happy fans at the BNP Paribas Open will get to witness the clash of the titans, Serena Williams and Garbine Muguruza.

Still, that is what happens when a living legend takes the best part of a year off to have a baby and can do nothing as her world ranking falls through the floor. And it is what happens when a former Wimbledon and French Open champion goes through a bit of a rough patch and can do nothing to stop her ranking doing likewise.

 

But on the evidence of their opening matches, both Williams, now ranked No.10 in the world, and Muguruza, the world No.20, are ready to go the distance this weekend. They have met five times in the past with Muguruza winning the honours on clay and Williams edging ahead 3-2 with two wins on hard court and one on grass. Logic, then, would give Williams the edge with this encounter but, then again, anything can happen in the desert.

Getting used to the vagaries of playing in these conditions is not easy. Apparently, according to those who know about such things, the courts are slow but, thanks to the incredibly dry air, the balls are fast. Then there is the swirling wind to contend with which, coupled with the way the ball flies off the racket, can drive some players to the point of implosion. But clearly not our two titans.

A bead of perspiration

Muguruza barely had time to break a bead of perspiration as she raced through her opening match, flattening Lauren Davis 6-1, 6-3 and she was happily back in her hotel by the time Williams was powering her way through a two-hour, 7-5, 6-3 win over her old pal Vika Azarenka. This was the women’s match of the year so far with the two former No.1s, former Indian Wells champions and current working mums competed eyeballs-out for every single point. So impressive was the display that the quiet little town of Indian Wells was still buzzing with the result the following day.



 
“You can't really enjoy it, because then you'll lose focus,” Williams said of the epic. “So it's like you've got to kind of stay in the moment, you know. Sometimes you realise, Oh, my God, this is going to be a classic. But you can't let your mind go there, because you wouldn't want to watch it in the future.”

But she was enjoying the aftermath of the drama – now Serena knew she was ready for battle again.

Be ready for anything


In Australia, she was 5-1 up in the third set against Karolina Pliskova and held a match point. She was one point away from the semi-finals and then she appeared to turn her ankle. From that moment on, she was never the same player again. The fight and champion’s spirit that had carried her to 23 Grand Slam titles in the past just faded away and her challenge for that elusive 24th major trophy was over. It ended not with a bang but a whimper.



Yet six weeks later, the old Serena is back and Muguruza will have to be ready for anything from the very first ball.

 “It will be good,” Williams said. “I haven't played her in a while. I think tonight was a good match to get me ready for that, and I'm ready. I feel like this is what I want, so I'm ready for the next round.

“It’s just being professional more than anything and just wanting to be out there and continuing to be out there. I think really, literally, that's what it boiled down to today.”

The titans are ready, let the clash begin.