Regained her status and reinvigorated by the exclusive trophy of the teachers that she won on November 18 under the Mexican sun, Garbiñe Muguruza gradually faces her sporting maturity with the feeling of a job well done, but unfinished. Few, very few tennis players can boast of a record that includes the assault on two of the sacred temples of the racket, Roland Garros (2016) and Wimbledon (2017), of having trodden the top of the circuit (October 2017) or of having been enthroned in the Women’s Cup (2021), where the best players of the season come together.
She, Garbiñe, 28 years old, has achieved all that but still wants to shore up her work with two more rivets. One of them is the US Open in New York, an elusive territory like no other for her, and the other is the Australian Open, a precious wish that she was about to fulfill in 2020 –final against the American Sofia Kenin– and now she offers her again a new opportunity. Muguruza arrives with his head and chin held high, after an important progression during the last two years –coinciding with the incorporation of Conchita Martínez to his bench– and after the lavish Guadalajara master award.
Feared at its peak, she gave ground later by getting into a hole from which she had a hard time getting out, but in recent times she has recovered her good pace and now, once again, rivals admire and respect her again. More accomplished and a better player, more consistent and with fewer and fewer weak points, Muguruza sets the pace again from the third step of the ranking, threatening, everyone aware that at one time or another they can strike another blow. Looking for him now in Melbourne. And, from the outset, a strong performance against Clara Burel: 6-3 and 6-4, in 1h 28m.
There are already ten presences in Australia, and as many wins in the first round. “I’ve made some mistakes, some easy ball that has been a bit long, but in general I’m happy. Despite the nerves I had, I went out on the track quite well. I have tried to take advantage of the second serves to attack”, he explained after dispatching the first opponent, 77th in the WTA list and who ended up falling apart in the final stretch of the pulse. Burel’s arm seized up and the statistics reflected the flaw: he only retained 29% (12/41) of the points resolved under his second serves.
Barty, Osaka, ella …
“One comes here more to the top for the preseason, wanting to do well,” continued Muguruza, controller from start to finish despite having a hard time closing. He did it to the fifth option and after having disrupted an adverse 15-40 with 4-2 in his favor, and having recovered from a last break. “It’s important, because at premieres there are always nerves,” he acknowledges, already thinking about the next turn that leads him to a duel with Alizé Cornet. That is, from French to French.
Dismounted from the pools during the stage of her professional crisis, Muguruza counts again in all the forecasts. Barty, Osaka, her. Above perhaps the three of other alternatives. He shines his name and returns to his true place while the rest are prevented.
“The results always help, because they give you the certainty that you are doing well and that you are at your best,” he says when this newspaper asks him if he perceives again the feeling of power and dominance on the track. “I feel that I am a player who is not comfortable for rivals. I haven’t stopped to think if I command more respect now than before, but I think the track record speaks for itself and I suppose that each victory and each title add up, so maybe yes”, he concludes.
Last year, like a bullet in Melbourne, he had the champion Osaka on the ropes, in the round of 16. But he did not score – he missed two match points – and left with a deep bad taste in his mouth because if he had, he knew he had many numbers to land in the desired place. The episode forgotten, he schemes between the hotel room and some parks – “one is a bit scared in this situation, so I avoid places with many people” – how to strike the final blow in the Antipodes.