When Garbiñe Muguruza won the French Open less than a month ago, one of her first thoughts was to question how on earth Rafael Nadal has won nine titles in Paris. Winning seven matches to secure a grand slam title requires everything to be in sync, something the Spaniard found out the hard way on Thursday when she was dumped out in the second round.
The runner-up to Serena Williams 12 months ago, Muguruza’s win in Paris was, many felt, another sign that the young guns were ready to take over. But on Thursday she hit the wall, emotionally and physically, and was well-beaten, 6-3, 6-2 by Jana Cepelova of Slovakia.
Cepelova has previous in giant-killing terms, beating Simona Halep here last year and also Williams in South Carolina in 2014 and fully deserved her win. But Muguruza looked listless, unable to get herself going and quite simply, had nothing left.
“I think my energy was missing a little bit today,” she said. “From yesterday I felt already a little bit tired … and today during the match, and after the match, I [felt] like: ‘It’s a tough day today’. I felt empty a little bit and I started to be sick. I think it was a little bit of combination.”
With her aggressive baseline game and a liking for the big stage, the 22-year-old Muguruza has the ability to be at the top for many years to come. But learning how to deal with pressure is something that takes time to master.
Understandably, Muguruza felt she had to play on home soil in Mallorca immediately after the French Open, not least since it was the first year of a new grass-court event. That effort, she said, and training too hard in the build-up to Wimbledon, cost her dear.
“I think to start after playing French Open, after trying Mallorca, which was too early to start, then practising hard to come here, was a little bit too much, maybe,” she said. “At some point my energy was going down. So I guess today was the day where I felt it right away. I just have to recover a little bit and get my energy back, then [I will] be good again.
“[It’s not so much] more expectations from other people. But honestly, for me, I was very clear it was going to be a rough tournament for me after winning a grand slam and coming here, everybody looking at me. I know all the matches are very tough. Nothing is going to happen if I lose today. It’s normal. It’s part of the game … there is not any drama.”
Muguruza enjoys being in the limelight, relishes being the hunted, not the hunter. “I think it’s part of being at the top level,” she said. “I would not change that. I know every time I step on the court, well, they want to beat me so much. They are all kind of loose because they have nothing to lose. But I like that. It [means I am] in a good situation. Hopefully I can keep it like this.”
Cepelova has been as high as No50 in the rankings, as recently as two years ago, and with her powerful game, she is always a danger. The 23-year-old began in a hurry, racing ahead and though Muguruza fought back to 5-3, Cepelova was good enough to close out the set. The Slovakian then stormed ahead 4-0 in the second and though Muguruza battled, she had nothing left.
“I’m going to learn that you really need to concentrate on how to recover and don’t reach a moment where your energy is too low, especially to play a grand slam,” she said. [You] face opponents that are good, they want to beat you so much, so you’ve got to be ready. You cannot go out there not at your best.”
Cepelova, who now plays the Czech Lucie Safarova, is making her way back up the rankings after suffering from pneumonia and with a back injury in 2015. Back to full health, she said she enjoys playing big-name players. “Last year I beat Halep on this court, I had great memories,” she said. “I know I have beaten some great players, which is very satisfying. I am so happy for this match, I played really well and I think I deserved it.”
The third seed, Agnieszka Radwanska, the runner-up in 2012, almost went the same way as Muguruza but saved three match points to beat the Croatian teenager Ana Konjuh 6-2, 4-6, 9-7.
The pair were tied at 7-7 in the final set when Konjuh, at full pace, turned her ankle when she trod on the ball. After having treatment, she played on but Radwanska held on for victory.
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