PARIS – Thoughts on No. 4-seed Garbine Muguruza’s 7–5, 6–4 win over No. 1 Serena Williams to win the 2016 French Open title.
• There’s always a balance in these matches between how much did the favorite retreat and how much did the challenger meet the moment.
Saturday’s final between 21-time Grand Slam champion Serena and Spaniard Muguruza had some of the same echoes of this year’s Australian Open. For the second major in a row, a challenger stood up and took the match to Serena. The challenger wasn’t intimidated and wasn’t out-hit and didn’t go away when the finish line was near.
Muguruza met the moment and clearly drew on her most recent meeting with Serena, in the 2015 Wimbledon final where she lost in straight sets. This time the outcome was different. Surely, part of the story of the 2016 French Open title match will be Serena—for the third major in a row—playing deep and failing to close in the final. But really, this is Mugu time.
• An easy analogy to use to describe Saturday’s final is boxing. On the day we are mourning the death of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, Muguruza landed some heavy blows and Serena backed up a little bit. Serena wasn’t out-punched today. This was power to power.
During the tournament, I talked to Muguruza three or four times. Of course, she is very sweet and smiles and her parents were in Paris for the fortnight. But there was a real sense that this was more than “I am happy to be here.” It felt as though she realized the opportunity—as if she put her days as an up-and-comer are behind her and said: I’m coming to win the big trophy.
• For Serena, with each of these missed opportunities, the pressure increases. In part because of her track record and also because she’s won more majors closer to retirement. I would never bet against Serena Williams. We saw her four years ago, when she lost in the first round of the French Open and everyone said, “What’s happening to her career?” And she came back that year and won Wimbledon and a gold medal. I wouldn’t be writing any career obituaries. Though we are going to hit a year of no majors for the World No. 1, we’re talking semifinal and finals. Serena is getting to the latter rounds but she hasn’t been able to close.
Before the last two majors, if you looked at her record in finals against players other than Venus, it was basically given that if she got to the second week of a major she was winning the trophy. And that hasn’t happened recently.
Now, Wimbledon 2016 becomes a very big tournament for her.
• As for Muguruza, she’s a star. At this year’s Australian Open, Angelique Kerber earned her first Grand Slam title, but I don’t think anyone expected greatness to follow after it happened. Today, there was a real sense that a true star was born—and she’s not done winning by a long shot.
The 2016 French Open was a breakthrough for Garbine Muguruza, and there will be more to come.