Garbiñe Muguruza hastens into role as Serena Williams’ heir apparent

Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros - Garbine Muguruza of Spain poses with her trophy Place de la Concorde

Many players dream of winning grand slam titles but, in an era dominated by Serena Williams, few women have had a look in. Garbiñe Muguruza’s stunning 7-5, 6-4 victory against the American in the French Open final on Saturday not only gave the women’s game a new champion but someone who at 22 may just be the heir apparent to Williams’s throne.

It was not just that Muguruza defeated Williams, it was the manner in which she did it. The tall Venezuela-born Spaniard has always had a swagger on court, but she backed it up with a barrage of powerful serving and thunderous groundstrokes that matched anything Williams could throw at her. In the past, so many challengers have faltered when faced with the 21-times grand slam champion across the net. Where Muguruza won the battle was in the mind, perhaps even before she went on court, truly believing that she had the game and the mental strength to do it.

Now, anything is possible. While Angelique Kerber showed others the way by beating Williams in the Australian Open final in January, the German is 28. Muguruza is six years younger, has a sound game built on power and accuracy and an inner belief that she belongs – a belief she first showed to the world last year when reaching the final at Wimbledon. Her win will put her up to No2 in the rankings behind Williams when the list is updated on Monday, and she has her sights set on the very top.

“There are many tournaments [to win],” Muguruza said when asked what was next, after winning what was her first clay-court final. “Of course the grand slams – for instance, I almost won at Wimbledon [where she lost to Williams]. I remember this final. I hope I’ll have another final, to win another grand slam final, and not to let it slip away. Everybody’s dreaming about being No1. All the players want to be the No1 player. I’m not thinking this way, I decided to keep my focus and win matches and tournaments, but of course I would be very happy to be No1.”

Muguruza was the first Spanish woman to win in Paris since Arantxa Sánchez Vicario picked up the third of her French Open titles in 1998. The pair are very different in terms of playing style but share the competitive spirit that allows them to fight through tough situations.

“She likes to play the top players and she probably is the up-and-coming player that I see is improving every year,” Sánchez Vicario said. “She has the level, the game. She just needs to get more consistency the whole year and the maturity as well. Once she gets that, she will be [even] more dangerous.”

Billie Jean King described it as a changing of the guard and Manolo Santana, who was the first Spanish man to win the title here when he triumphed in 1961, could hardly keep the grin off his face as he talked about Muguruza, having sat courtside for her triumph.

“I was very pleased to see the way she played,” Santana said. “There is no doubt she is a champion already and then she will keep going. Last year, remember, she played Wimbledon in a very good way and two years ago she already beat Serena here, so she is not one of those players who just happen once, she is not a flash in the pan. Now I think she has to keep training the way she does. She’s one of those people that whenever she has won, it will never go to her head. She’s so good. I think she is going to be very good for tennis and for Spain, it will be like Santana in 1961.”

Muguruza is just the second woman born in the 1990s to win a grand slam (no man has done it), after the two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, and she will fancy her chances of going one better at Wimbledon, where she came so close 12 months ago.

Williams’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, said on Sunday that he believes the 34-year-old will “go on to win many more grand slams” but with every one that passes without her name on the trophy, others begin to believe.

“I think it’s incredible to see new faces and that the players know now that it’s possible to win, to defeat Serena,” Muguruza said. “It’s like breathing new or fresh air.” Just like Muguruza herself.

Powered by article was written by Simon Cambers at Roland Garros, for The Guardian on Sunday 5th June 2016 15.25 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010