It is rare to think that a former Wimbledon finalist and French Open winner could be flying under the radar of a Wimbledon lacking a Serena, a Maria, and a Vika (now gone in the 4th round of her post baby slam return); however, that seems to be the case for Garbine Muguruza. Even after defeating world #1 Angie Kerber, much of the discussion among TV commentators and fans on social media revolves around the fresher faces in the field and the more feel good stories left in the draw. As a tennis world breathlessly dreams about and awaits the return of Venus Williams to the championship match, or cheers homegrown Jo Konta on to the quarterfinals, many have not taken notice of the superb brand of tennis the 2016 French Open champion is playing.
On paper, Muguruza’s defeat of Kerber wouldn’t seem that impressive or surprising. Kerber has struggled all season finding the form that vaulted her to #1 in the world last year and won her two Slam titles. This underachievement on her part mutes the result in the media for Mugurugza; however when digging deeper into the match, you see that there is more too this victory and her play over the course of the tourney. Kerber had strung together three wins in a row–tough wins, but wins nonetheless and took the first set of the match against the Spaniard. Last season, a less that confident Mugurugza might have struggled to find her footing, sprayed groundstrokes two feet long pass the baseline, yelled at her box and coach for her lack of heart or preparation. This season though, this tournament, Muguruza found her footing. Muguruza confidently blasted her groundstrokes into the deep corners keeping Kerber off balance. Approached the net often and timely, and fired 50 winners. The 14 seed, raised her service level, firing aces and big second serves to the body. She fought back from break points. Pumped her fist with each meaningful point won, and was steely eyed in the face of vigorous opposition.
Muguruza’s ability to keep her nerve and fight off break points in stressful moments of a match is a defining mark of her improved play this season. Muguruza has fought off break point 46% of the time she has faced those dreaded points. Her ability to fend off these momentum changing points, is 6% points higher that the average of those seeded above her, and a whopping 10% higher than those seeded below her. In a game where breaks of serve are very common (on the WTA tour) the ability to hold serve puts her at a stark advantage from the start. Muguruza has always had a mighty serve, a true weapon in her arsenal, but her ability to protect that weapon, to use that weapon to protect her leads in sets and matches is what is helping her cut through this draw in impressive form.
Beyond the nuts and bolts of her serve, Muguruza has displayed a calm focused demeanor with the press about her expectations for this tournament. Prior to her match against Kerber, Muguruza couldn’t be goaded by the British press into saying anything colorful about playing the current (for 1 more day) number one. Muguruza who can typically be very open in press and on the court was diplomatic. When asked about the opportunity at Wimbledon with a wide open draw, with no former champions remaining, Muguruza simply said, “Yeah, maybe everybody’s thinking, Oh, what a nice chance. But I got to go out there and make that true. I’m motivated. I have toughest rounds to come. I’m just looking forward for it. I’m not thinking that far, like most people do. Maybe they’re thinking, Who am I playing next round, the next round? They’re making the whole speculation thing.For me, it’s just more simple than that. I’m just going to take care of my next match and we see from there. It’s just like that.”
So although many haven’t seen it because of scheduling decisions of the Wimbledon brass and because of her misleading ranking of #14. And although many haven’t heard her, because of her politically correct responses to bating press questions, Muguruza is playing great tennis and seems to found a level of confidence and maturity lacking at the end of 2016. Her play has been champions level; her attitude has been presidential; her focus has been pointed and tactical. The field should take notice and be worried.