Florida’s Whitney Osuigwe, the 15-year-old who won the French Open junior girls’ title and has posted up an impressive number of wins this season, is the ITF junior world champion for 2017 on the girls’ side.
Osuigwe had just cracked the top 100 in the ITF junior girls’ rankings when the 2017 season began. She ends it at No. 1 and is still alive in singles and doubles at this week’s Orange Bowl in Florida.
She won both the 18s girls singles and doubles titles last week at the Eddie Herr tournament. That’s a home event for her as it’s held at the IMG Academy where she trains.
Countrywoman Catherine Bellis won the award in 2014 and Taylor Townsend in 2012. Before that, you have to go all the way back to Zina Garrison and Gretchen Rush in 1981 and 1982.
On the boys’ side, Axel Geller becomes first junior from Argentina to be named ITF world champion in 22 years. (Mariano Zabaleta and Federico Browne won the award back-to-back in 1994 and 1995).
He reached the singles final at both the French and US Opens, and took the doubles title in Paris.
On the pro side, ATP No. 1 Rafael Nadal and WTA No. 2 Garbiñe Muguruza have been named world champions for 2017.
Muguruza is just 40 points out of the No. 1 spot in the WTA Tour rankings, just behind Simona Halep. But unlike Halep, Muguruza is a Slam champion, having won Wimbledon this year. The ITF awards weight the Slams (which it has jurisdiction over) more than other tournaments.
According to the ITF, it’s the first time both winners have come from the same country since Lindsay Davenport and Pete Sampras were named ITF world champions in 1998.
It’s the third time Nadal has been so honored. Time flies: he’s the oldest-ever to be honored, at age 31.
“Becoming ITF World Champion in such a competitive year is amazing for me and is even more special because Rafa has also been awarded on the men’s side. He is a great role model for all of us, so it is a great moment for tennis in Spain,” Muguruza said in a statement.
“I knew that putting in the hard work would pay off eventually and it made winning Wimbledon and achieving the No. 1 ranking so special. I’m motivated to take everything I’ve learned this year and apply it to my work next season.”
Final accolade for Hingis
The doubles champions are Marcelo Melo (Brazil) and Lukasz Kubot (Poland) on the men’s side, and Yung-Jan Chan (Taipei) and Martina Hingis (Switzerland) on the women’s side.
Melo and Kubot won the ATP Tour Finals last month, one of six titles that included Wimbledon, in their first season together.
Hingis, who retired at the end of the season, gets one more accolade.
She and Chan made nine finals – and won all of them.
David Wagner, 43, was named the first-ever ITF Quad Wheelchair World Champion, a long overdue accolade after he finished No. 1 in the year-end rankings for the eighth time. Gustavo Fernandez, 23 is the ITF Wheelchair champion on the men’s side and Yui Kamiji – also 23 – was honored on the women’s side.
Kamiji won three of the four major titles in 2017, all but Wimbledon.
The awards will be handed out at the French Open next June.
In the end, the WTA’s season finale in Singapore was a microcosm of the season on the women’s circuit.
One day, a player looked like a world beater.
The next day, she looked as though she didn’t belong anywhere near the top.
Poor followed very good and was followed by average in the order we came to expect in a topsy-turvy 2017.
But in the end, it was the two most seasoned players who came through.
Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams handled the almost-unplayable slowness of the Singapore court. They handled the round-robin format that seemed to stymie some of the younger players so programmed to the regular elimination format.
And if Wozniacki held up the big trophy at the end, it was Williams who continued to write the story of the season.
The 37-year-old didn’t win the Player of the Year award – even in this season, you really had to win a major to get that one. But she deserved it.
A renaissance season for Venus
That Williams will finish No. 1 in prize money for 2017 speaks to her results. Among the players in the top 100, Williams played fewer weeks this year than anyone not sidelined with longer-term injuries (Stephens, Keys et al) or a suspension (Sharapova).
Williams’s longevity, her unquenchable and ongoing thirst for the fight, and her willingness to leave it all on the court despite the challenges she deals with continued in the season finale.
The tennis, mercifully, improved throughout the week. Perhaps the court sped up a little with regular use. Perhaps the players gradually adjusted to it. But in the end, the surface was a significant sidebar.
It allowed Wozniacki, a premier defensive player, to have the time she needed to do what she does best. And yet, even the 27-year-old Dane felt the urgency to finish off some points more quickly than she might have otherwise.
It’s been a long season.
The surface also hurt Williams, who found herself in some marathons earlier in the week and by the second set of the final, had simply run out of legs.
On the doubles side, the decision last year to ditch the round-robin format used in singles and adopt a single-elimination format for the eight qualifying teams relegated it to a footnote for the week.
Had it not been for the retirement of Martina Hingis (who along with partner Yung-Jan Chan was eliminated in her second match, following her confirmation that this would indeed be her swan song), it might have passed virtually unnoticed.
For the four teams eliminated in the first round, the notion of working all season to get to Singapore, to fly all the way to Singapore, and to play just one match is a little unfair.
But it was made necessary by the fluctuating crowd support in Singapore.
The first edition in 2014 was a huge success on the attendance side. And while the WTA Tour kept the attendance figures on the down low in the intervening years (the numbers are not even available for 2016), they cut early-week day sessions. They cut the legends’ event. They reduced the “Rising Stars” component to a regional Asian event that also passed unnoticed.
(Remember 2015, when 22-year-old Caroline Garcia, already ranked No. 35, was considered a “rising star”? A little crazy. But a final between Garcia and Naomi Osaka that year certainly had more marquee value than this year’s finals between … Priska Nugroho and Pimrada Jattavapornvanit, and Megan Smith and Ya-Hsin Lee.)
Singapore results and grades
 Simona Halep
In her first round-robin match against Garcia, she looked like a world beater. It was Halep’s first match as the new world No. 1, and she played the part to perfection.
In her second, against Wozniacki, she won just two games. In her third, against Elina Svitolina, she won just seven games and was eliminated.
She finishes the season ranked No. 1. But she didn’t finish it playing like a No. 1. Her challenge in 2018 will be to marry up those two concepts.
 Garbiñe Muguruza
The WTA Tour Player of the Year, the Wimbledon champion, didn’t finish her season the way she wanted to.
She began the week well against overwhelmed Singapore rookie Jelena Ostapenko. But then, it unraveled with a desultory loss to Karolina Pliskova. The defeat at the hands of Williams was a bruising one. Still, it was a straight-sets loss.
The Spaniard has the mien and posture of a champion. But there’s something missing. It seemed as though she might be the one to come through and take a firm grasp on the top spot, in this window of opportunity caused by the absence of so many champions. But it didn’t happen. It’s an ongoing mystery.
 Karolina Pliskova
With one-week coach Rennae Stubbs on board, the on-court coaching consults definitely took an uptick – especially for non-Czech speakers. Pliskova had already co-opted Barbora Strycova coach Tomas Krupa for 2018, so it can go no further. But hopefully some of the other players in Singapore will give it some consideration, because Stubbs, a great athlete who mastered the entire court during her career, has something to offer.
Pliskova looked like a world-beater against a rusty Williams in her first round. In her second, against Muguruza, she looked great again. But then she was crushed by Ostapenko in what essentially was a meaningless match (beyond the money and ranking points). At 25, with plenty of experience behind her and in her second tour of Singapore, Pliskova definitely should have handled that “dead rubber” match with more aplomb.
 Elina Svitolina
Svitolina gets some slack because it was her first appearance at the Tour Finals. The players have to arrive early, do a lot of media and promotion. The entire routine of a tournament is completely turned upside down. The week before the matches actually begin must feel endless.
She was thrashed by Wozniacki in her first match. But she fought valiantly and played some very good tennis in her marathon loss to Garcia in her second match – arguably the match of the tournament.
But it was clear at that point that she’d had enough. Faced with the possibility that she wasn’t yet out of contention for the weekend after that match, her attitude and words suggested she’d just as soon not even entertain that notion. That’s not what you want to hear from one of the eight best players in the world.
 Venus Williams
In the absence of her sister Serena, you wonder how different this season would have looked without Williams’ throwback effort.
She created the spark in Singapore that was missing with the rest of the field (And that, despite a desultory and somewhat disrespectful effort in her press conferences; those on hand were only doing their jobs, and had travelled a long way to do them).
For the 37-year-old to win the whole thing would have been a storybook ending. It couldn’t quite happen. But in the end, she wasn’t the best player on the week. So it was fitting.
 Caroline Wozniacki
Wozniacki won the biggest title of her career in Singapore. And it was a perfect marriage of surface and playing style.
The commentators were gushing with praise about how she was playing her best tennis ever. But if they paid more attention to her on a day-to-day basis, they might revise that. The Dane has been playing excellent tennis all year. If she fell a little short in most of her tournament finals, she nonetheless made eight of them this season. And she improved her ranking from No. 19 at the start of 2017 to No. 3 at the end.
The muddy court was ideal for arguably the best defensive player in the game. But it was her veteran’s ability to adjust her tactics to take best advantage of it that won her the title. Wozniacki took advantage of the opportunities that did present themselves in points, and added a little more when she needed to.
 Jelena Ostapenko
Of all the players in Singapore, Ostapenko’s 2018 season is going to be the most fascinating.
Her win at the French Open, while well-deserved, was aided by the inability of some of her colleagues to seize their moment. With her inexperience, and insouciance, she had no such baggage and was the last one left standing.
But even on the Singapore court, the weakness of her serve cost her. When Williams pounced on her second delivery with impunity later in their round-robin match, the carefree ability to hit winners took a hit. And the surface hurt her in the same way it helped Wozniacki; the winners were harder to come by. And when a player used to hitting those winners isn’t getting them, they try to add even more. And that led to errors.
Only in her final match did Ostapenko exhibit that insouciance again. But there was nothing at stake for her; she was going home regardless. That was telling. Again, as with Svitolina, it was her first trip.
As well, coach Anabel Medina Garrigues wasn’t there, having left to take the Fed Cup captaincy in Spain. A calming influence, Medina Garrigues can take some credit for that French Open victory. The next coach is going to have a tough act to follow.
 Caroline Garcia
The last to qualify for Singapore by virtue of back-to-back wins at big events in Wuhan and Beijing (and an injury to main competitor Johanna Konta), the WTA Tour Finals were a coming-out party.
Of all the Singapore rookies, she was the only one who clearly lived the experience to the fullest – win or lose.
Smiling, talkative, a battler on the court, perhaps the time is now for the French player of whom so much has been expected. She let her game flow for much of the week, and it was a beautiful thing.
Given how much tennis Garcia had played in the late stages to get there, her resistance through all those hours on the court was impressive. The three best matches of the week all had her on one side of the court.
Simona Halep would have been forgiven if her reaction after beating Jelena Ostapenko Saturday in Beijing were one of relief.
Instead, it was pure joy.
Okay, maybe there was a little relief mixed in there somewhere.
The momentous victory meant that on Monday, the 26-year-old Romanian officially will become the No. 1 ranked player on the WTA Tour, for the first time in her career.
She will be the first Romanian, and the 25th in the history of the WTA Tour, to rise to the top spot. She also will be the fourth in less than six months. Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova and Garbiñe Muguruza have all owned the top spot since March.
This time, she somehow put aside the accumulated pressure, the nerves, and the failures. She went to the line, and served it out as though it were the first set in her first-round match.
Even if she admitted her legs were shaking before that last point.
“I still say the toughest moment on court was the French Open final. It was the first opportunity to be No.1 and to win the first Grand Slam. I was devastated after that match. Then I just kept working. I said it’s going to happen one day, I just have to get on court and work harder, which I did,” Halep said afterwards, on a podcast on the WTA Tour website. “Darren (coach Darren Cahill) always told me that if you keep working you can do it. So today I did it after so many tough moments.”
That Halep is a good enough player and athlete to become No. 1 – especially in this era, when that top sport is so very much up for grabs – was rarely in question.
In a year of up-and-down results, of players reaching great heights only to stumble a few steps down the hill the following week, she was as capable as anyone.
But for her, compared to some, all the cylinders need to fire.
You just had to look over to the other side of the net Saturday to see Ostapenko. The 20-year-old from Latvia rode an insouciant confidence and the resultant ability to hit screaming winners to a French Open title.
That title came, as it happens, against the more well-rounded and experienced Halep.
For Ostapenko, the challenge will come when that confidence isn’t where it is now, and when opponents begin to figure out how to exploit the weaknesses in her game.
At times, Halep her own worst enemy
For Halep, the challenge so often has been to overcome herself.
Her humanizing self-doubt, a combination of cultural and personal, has meant that “her day”, as she referred to it on court Saturday, has only come at age 26.
“First place is the mental strength. The game I always had. I was there close many times, 2014 in Singapore. But the mental part I was not very close. This year for sure is the best way that I’ve been on court. The attitude now I’m happy about it. I’m not ashamed anymore,” she said on the WTA podcast. “I could not control my nerves, I could not control myself. And I was talking too bad to myself. I don’t deserve that because I’m working hard and I just have to appreciate myself more.”
The affable Aussie, who has coached a youngster (Lleyton Hewitt) and an oldster (Andre Agassi) to No. 1, had reaching a breaking point.
After the French Open, Halep said, she had a psychologist who made a difference. There also was another man, a Romanian, with whom she worked at home.
“I really want to thank them because they showed me what I need to improve and what I have to change to be better on court, which I did it and credit to them, she said.
And then, there was the match against Maria Sharapova at the US Open – a very tough first-round draw for both, and a win for Sharapova.
“After the match, I talked to Darren and he told me my serve was s**t and that’s why I lost the match. So I said okay, if that’s the only one thing I can improve to beat her, then I work for it,” she told the WTA.
Beefed up serve, lessons learned
Halep said she’s been out on the court hitting serves an hour a day. And the improved velocity this week in Beijing is the reward for all that work.
She crushed Sharapova 6-2, 6-2 in the third round.
But despite all the fuss made about it – one comparison was made to Rafael Nadal’s serving velocity when he won the US Open in 2010 –the serve wasn’t new territory.
We can recall a few years ago, when she first got on the top-player radar in 2014, that her serving velocity easily got up to the 105-107 mph range.
It was a matter of getting back to it, with the increased experience to be able to keep the velocity up without sacrificing location and consistency.
Back then, Halep already was a master at changing the direction of a hard-hit ball – taking a cross-court shot down the line with her backhand, more specifically.
Before that final game, Halep looked slightly nauseous. It’s hard to even fathom the thoughts that were rushing through her head.
But in those final points against Ostapenko, she showed all of those skills. She sent her younger scrambling from corner to corner until the Latvian was in positions from where it was impossible to pull the trigger. She hit big serves out wide to take control of the points. With one final forehand down the line, and a leap in the air, she had done it.
WTA on-court celebrations
The WTA Tour made a big to-do about the accomplishment immediately after the match.
They had CEO Steve Simon and president Mickey Lawler and all the tournament officials ready to trot out on the court for a photo opportunity. They had a beautiful No. 1 made of flowers ready – a tribute Halep hugged as if she didn’t want to let it go. They had the tribute video all prepared for the giant screens.
There was an element of potential jinx to all of that advance preparation. You wonder if Halep saw the WTA executives hanging around and knew exactly what they were there for.
But it was a rare moment when an accomplishment could be immediately and publicly celebrated.
First true No. 1 celebration of 2017
The other occasions over the last year when a player became No. 1 weren’t nearly as neat and tidy, tailor-made for an instant tribute.
But there’s no time to celebrate. Halep still has a job to do.
She will meet an in-form Caroline Garcia in the Beijing final Sunday to win her fourth Premier Mandatory-level title.
In the absence so far of a Grand Slam title on her resumé, Premier Mandatory titles are Halep’s biggest efforts to date.
On the other side of the net, another milestone is in the works.
Garcia, whose season began with some Fed Cup drama and more back woes, has been surging.
She won Wuhan (a Premier 5 event) last week. And she was able to keep the momentum going and the energy up during a grueling week in Beijing.
On the WTA Tour this year, that has been a rare ironwoman streak. That it comes so late in the season is even more impressive.
Garcia survived a three-hour, 21-minute marathon against Elina Svitolina in the quarterfinals Friday and backed it up with a straight-sets win over Petra Kvitova in Saturday’s semifinal.
Sunday will be Garcia’s fifth straight day on the courts. But the end goal is within reach: a win would put the Frenchwoman into position to earn the final singles qualifying spot in Singapore for the first time in her career.
After rough sailing the last few years, these were supposed to be new and calmer seas for the suits at the Spanish Tennis Federation.
Instead, its first big move was to fire former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez. Twice.
The RFET relieved Martinez of her duties as Davis Cup captain and Fed Cup captain Thursday. It was one of those “We love you, really, but we’re still breaking up with you” announcements.
“At the meeting held this morning in Barcelona, the members of the Board unanimously agreed to a change in the direction of our professional teams, highlighting the great work Conchita Martínez has done during these years at the head of our most emblematic tennis teams,” the federation’s statement said.
The board said Martinez “has done a great job. ” But ….. “we have decided to make a change, by general consensus, as we face new challenges in 2018.”
They said it will announce new captains “in the coming days”.
That probably means they already know who they are.
Typically, in these types of circumstances (note how many players and coaches, when they part ways, always do soand by “mutual agreement), the former captain will play ball.
He or she will talk about how it was a great experience. And they’ll speak warmly about how much they appreciated the opportunity, bla bla bla.
Martinez chose not do go that route. Instead, she’s being honest.
“I want to share with you my disappointment and unease towards the RFET, which advised me late this afternoon that will not count on me for next season.
“It is very ungrateful, after you take over a ship in stormy seas and steer it towards calm and compromise, to be cast overboard. With the arrival of the new board, the situation was supposed to change. But it is more of the same; tennis still is not a priority,” Martinez wrote in her statement. “Given the complicated circumstances, I have accepted their decision. If the situation were different, I would not.”
Martinez wrote with the neglect she felt the last few months from the board, she pretty much figured her days were numbered. One big warning sign was when, for the first time in recent years, the new board of directors decided against her traveling to the Grand Slam events to meet face-to-face with the players on her players and keep track of their progress.
This is something just about all Fed Cup and Davis Cup captains do, as a matter of routine.
“I’m proud to have been able to work with the best tennis players in the world. It hurts for the fans, with whom I share a love and passion for tennis, who have been there always supporting us in every match, on television, in the stands or with their messages through social networks,” she wrote. “My motivation and desire remain intact, just like my first day. I would have liked to continue, but the RFET’s decision is unilateral”
Martinez said that after all her contributions to Spanish tennis, she didn’t deserve to be fired in what considers such a disrespectful manner.
Can’t argue that.
New Fed – same as the old Fed
The Spanish Tennis Federation has been a dog’s breakfast in recent years. And its high-profile players refused to play ball.
When even Carlos Moyá couldn’t get them to commit to play Davis Cup, he resigned. Spain was crushed by Brazil in a playoff tie in Sept. 2014, and Roberto Bautista Agut was the only singles player ranked in the top 500 who committed to play. So the federation played its hand in a show of “executive power”.
It decided to unilaterally bring in a former WTA Tour player, Gala León Garcia, to become the new Davis Cup captain. Among the other names put forth at the time were people like Juan Carlos Ferrero, a former No. 1.
The power move backfired, big time.
The players objected to having someone they barely even knew (even in her previous administrative functions with the federation) forced upon them. And so León Garcia cried sexism. The top guns boycotted, and León Garcia went back underground as quick as she had emerged. She never captained a tie. And it further confirmed the players’ notion that they didn’t know her, she didn’t know them, and furthermore had little interest in even getting to know them.
That’s when Martinez came on board.
After that, federation president José Luis Escañuela and vice-president Olvido Aguilera got into some hot water over some alleged major financial irregularities including – most amusingly – some 12,000 Euros spent on candy.
It wasn’t exactly a study of democracy in action, even if the voter turnout was nearly 97 per cent. The two other candidates withdrew just before the start of the meeting. The final tally was 123 votes for Díaz Román, 46 blank votes, and four spoiled ballots.
“We are going to unite tennis in Spain, we are going to work together to make the Spanish Tennis Federation a benchmark at the global level,” Díaz Román said upon being elected.
The first thing Díaz Román did was to shuffle León Garcia out of the federation completely. He promised to restore the federation to its former glory.
But barely a year after taking office, he presided over a move that cannot sit well with the new No. 1 in the WTA Tour rankings, Garbiñe Muguruza.
Muguruza called upon Martinez to take over the coaching when regular coach Sam Sumyk had to miss Wimbledon due to the birth of his first child.
She won the tournament. And it was clear that experience and chill of Martinez contributed greatly to that effort.
Davis Cup in disarray
As for Davis Cup, players like Roberto Bautista-Agut and Pablo Carreño Busta took part in 2017. But Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer and others took a pass.
The next Davis Cup tie will take place right after the Australian Open in early February (the draw will be made next week in London).
It will be fascinating to see who will be captaining. And even more fascinating to see which players will play.
Spain currently has the world No. 1 male player in Nadal, and the world No. 1 female player in Muguruza. You can’t ask for more in terms of spreading the gospel of the game in your country.
It defies the imagination as to why they would want to rock the boat in such a major way, right.
For the Davis Cup, it seems like the same old, same old (former male player with a Slam on his resumé). For the women, a couple of former players whose main success came in doubles are on the list. As well – and we wonder about their thinking here – the former (male) coach of one of the mainstays of the Fed Cup team, Carla Suárez Navarro. Former coach. There’s a reason.
One interesting thing the board reportedly thought Martinez was lacking was “the ability to manage with a clear message to the group.” If that’s the case, the suits continue to fail to understand what the 21st century player is all about. And this is especially true on the men’s side, where the majority of the players are higher-ranked.
Those players play Davis Cup out of duty, not for the money. Because it’s an intrusion, in a sense, to the dynamics of their day job. The recent rash of injuries at the top of the game tell you most top players want to play less, not more.
The Davis Cup participants are not a team all season long. But when they show up, they give their all. They don’t need motivation – just making time for it in their schedule shows they’re plenty motivated. And they don’t need “a clear message”. They’re not children to be controlled.
WIMBLEDON – The women’s singles final was turning out to be everything you could hope for.
Then – suddenly, unexpectedly – it wasn’t.
It was a rout.
And 23-year-old Garbiñe Muguruza earned her first Wimbledon title, her second Grand Slam title, going away.
For the Spaniard, they may be many more. But on the other side of the net, 37-year-old Venus Williams may look back with regret the opportunity lost.
It was her best opportunity during a nine-year Grand Slam drought to hold up the big trophy once more.
And for reasons that may only ever be truly known to those close to her, she crumbled.
Early promise unfulfilled
Until 4-5 in the first set the final was a battle of shaky forehands at times. But the errors were interspersed with some baseline exchanges of breathtaking quality. It was a heavyweight battle of championship caliber.
Williams had two set points, 15-40 at 4-5 on Muguruza’s serve.
A forehand into the net. A missed service return. Muguruza managed to hold.
Williams never won another game in the 7-5, 6-0 defeat.
The American’s forehand deserted her in the next game and as doubt settled into the mind, and the cumulative physical effort of six previous matches settled into her legs, her younger opponent’s championship mettle took over.
At 6-5, 30-15 as Muguruza served out the first set, Williams’s nerve failed her.
A great defensive retrieval by Muguruza went high in the air, heading for the corner of the court.
It was nowhere being an automatic out. But Williams’ feet didn’t move. It was a “Oh, please, let that ball be out” moment.
Except it wasn’t. And when it took a sideways hop off the court, it was too late for Williams to recover. One point later, the first set went to Muguruza.
“Yeah, I went out there and maybe I was too aggressive, you know, too hungry to win the point. I was missing few shots maybe too early. But they were long, so I was not that worried because I knew that eventually they were going to go inside maybe deep. So with the match and feeling more comfortable, feeling more in the court, they were getting in,” Muguruza said. “I thought it was just a matter of time, of going through the first nerves of the match, then that’s it.”
Was that the moment Venus, in her own mind, knew it was over?
A match is never over until the handshake. But as the second set began, Williams was pressing.
She double-faulted into the net – her service motion collapsing down as it has done, at times, in key moments during her career.
At 0-2, Williams threw all caution to the wind, but not necessarily in a good way.
Muguruza had come to the net more than Williams in the first set, mirroring their forward-thinking efforts through the fortnight.
But now, Williams was doing it out of desperation, illogically, foolheartedly.
Had the legs run out of steam in her seventh match in less than two weeks?
Was she panicking as she saw this golden opportunity to hold up the namesake Venus Rosewater dish above her head one last time slip away?
Even for a time-tested veteran of so many tennis battles, that possibility can’t be discounted.
Williams was behind the baseline on some of those attempts, which seemed to be more a matter of bailing out of rallies than being aggressive in a positive way. At times, she didn’t even get near the service line on the way up, making the passing shots elementary. On one butchered volley, facing yet another break point, the feet never got sorted and the miss was monumental.
The message it sent to her opponent was resounding.
Muguruza stays the course
And Muguruza, to her great credit, kept doing exactly what she had been doing. She hit hard, she missed rarely. As she said after the victory, she might have been nervous, but she was composed.
When the Spaniard faced break points, the speed on her strokes went up a measured five miles an hour.
By the time it was 5-0, and Muguruza was serving for the title, Williams had surrendered.
It’s an astonishing thing to see a grand champion just give up on such a big occasion. Even if the mountain to climb seems insurmountable, tennis’s scoring system allows a player to come back even if they’re just a single point away from losing the match.
She barely moved in that final game.
When it was over, the reaction of the crowd was eerily quiet. It was the quietest moment of the entire match, which was played under the Centre Court roof because of some misty weather outside.
When the roof is closed, every sound inside is amplified. The ball sounds like it’s hit harder. The grunts from both players sound louder, and the applause is in stereophonic sound.
But the combination of the match ending on a line-call challenge, and the disappearance of the five-time champion in its latter half left the crowd stunned. Even the perfect acoustics couldn’t up the volume to where it should have been, to the level Muguruza deserved for her big moment.
At 23, she now has four career titles. Just four. And two of them are Grand Slam titles.
Since the beginning of 2016, in 33 tournaments, Muguruza has made just two finals. Both were Grand Slam finals. And she won both of them.
“It is very hard to find, like, a recipe to feel good fitness-wise, (tennis-wise), mentally. I think in this tournament I put everything together, which is very hard,” Muguruza said. “Normally, you know, you’re tired, I feel pain here, my confidence is not there. So I felt this tournament I find somehow, you know, to put everything together and perform good at every level.”
Williams was highly gracious afterwards, as she has never failed to be no matter what.
Whatever emotions she may be feeling, whatever was preventing her from showing her best in the second set, she was keeping deep inside her.
As she did the on-court interview with former player Sue Barker, Williams said the right things. But her voice lacked conviction – until she looked into the camera and spoke to sister Serena, at home awaiting the birth of her first child.
“I tried my best to do the same you do,” Williams said. “But I think there will be other opportunities. I do!” With an arch grin, Williams was off.
Close to the vest
There was no further elaboration in her post-match media conference. There rarely is, with Williams. She keeps it private, nearly always. If there’s any conclusion tobe drawn, it’s that her answers were even shorter and less revealing than usual.
Asked about the seismic shift between the first and second sets and whether she was fatigued, she said this:
“Yeah, there’s errors, and you can’t make them. You can’t make them. I went for some big shots and they didn’t land. Probably have to make less errors.”
Asked again if she was also feeling a little tired, she didn’t respond.
“Yeah, I think she played amazing. She played amazing,”
So that’s that.
Two years ago, when Serena defeated Muguruza in the final on the same court and Muguruza couldn’t hold back the tears, the 23-time Grand Slam champion had a feeling.
"You'll be holding this trophy very, very soon – believe me"
WIMBLEDON – If, on the day of the women’s single draw, someone told you Venus Williams vs. Garbiñe Muguruza was going to be the ladies’ singles final, would you have laughed?
Or would you have been intrigued by the journey?
Williams, 37, has enough of a track record this yea with the Australian Open final that her being there on the final day was not completely out of the realm of possibility.
Especially on grass. And especially at Wimbledon.
Had sister Serena been here, the scenario would have been quite different – not only for Venus, but for the rest of the field.
Mowing down the youngsters
Presuming Williams didn’t have one of those days she can have because of the Sjogren’s disease, where she wakes up and just has no energy, there was no one in her way she couldn’t overcome to get here.
She faced a series of three hard-hitting youngsters, all born in 1997, and handled them all in straight sets. Not easily – the lack of fear from the new generation is as potent a weapon as a big forehand – but with consistency.
In Johanna Konta, she faced a woman who carried a country of tennis fans on her back. Konta also had been through the wringer during this tournament, surviving Caroline Garcia and No. 2 seed Simona Halep and, most dramatically, 21-year-old Donna Vekic in the second round.
Konta won that one 10-8 in the third set. And with that, her first trip past the second round at her Home Slam, she was on her way. But against the five-time champion Williams, she just didn’t have enough.
And so Williams will be in search of a sixth Wimbledon title. It would be her first since 2008, when she defeated her sister here.
The presence of the woman is such that her stature in the game goes far beyond what she has actually accomplished over the last 15 years. Her career had come in two waves: before sister Serena surpassed her, and afterwards.
Williams has not won Wimbledon in nine years. And other than Wimbledon, she has not won a Grand Slam title since she defeated her sister in the 2001 US Open final.
It was an event held on a Saturday night for the first time. And the schedule change came, in large part, because the two sisters were expected to be fighting it out for major titles for the next decade.
Now, in Williams’ tennis dotage, she is adding a third wave. And perhaps it might be the best wave of all.
“I don’t think about my age. I know I have a lot to give, still. I don’t feel any particular age. So it’s not a factor,” Williams said. “I’m still in love with this part of my life, and I don’t want it to end.”
It has never seemed as crucial to Williams to be the best, to win it all, as it always has to her sister. She never, outwardly at least, carried the same fierce ambition. But the determination must have always burned inside of her. If it didn’t, she wouldn’t be here on this day, ready to make some history.
For Muguruza, a second title awaits
Meanwhile, her opponent is just getting started.
Muguruza’s problem, in this matchup, is that everything she does well, Williams does better on a good day. And Williams does a few more things that Muguruza doesn’t do.
Is it a (relatively) easier task than it was two years ago, when Muguruza made her first major final but had Serena Williams in front of her? Probably. But that doesn’t make it easy.
Most impressive about Muguruza in defeat in 2015 was that despite the mismatch in experience, she was hardly overwhelmed. She competed well, and she made it close.
“I just remember that everything went very quickly. I didn’t realize it. And suddenly I was in the trophy ceremony,” Muguruza told the BBC. “I’m going to take my time and really breathe out there, and enjoy, also. Because it’s very fast.”
Back in 2013, when Muguruza was still a teenager, Williams pulled out a victory 7-5 in the third at a small WTA Tour event in Brazil.
More recently, in the quarterfinals of Rome this year, on clay, Muguruza was the winner in three sets. It was the kind of match that signalled the Spaniard was coming out of the torpor that can affect first-time Grand Slam champions.
After winning the French Open in 2016, Muguruza had struggled with injury, with expectations, with pressure self-imposed and from the outside. Once the French Open was over this year, and the weight of defending that title (she didn’t) was off her shoulders, Muguruza is showing some of her best tennis again.
But Venus Williams isn’t Magdalena Rybarikova, the Slovak Muguruza defeated in the semifinals Wednesday.
With Rybarikova, Muguruza was able to get to the net first in many instances. But she had more opportunity to do so against an opponent a little frozen by nerves, and one who doesn’t hit the ball nearly as hard.
Against Williams, that will prove a far more difficult task. Surprisingly, Muguruza has come to the net more during this Wimbledon than Williams has.
Part of that was that Williams played a series of those young ball bashers, and the opportunities were harder to carve out. But how much each will move forward in this final will be a fascinating dynamic to watch.
In the end, it seems the two will have to mostly slug it out from the baseline.
Whoever slugs best on the day will emerge the winner.
Muguruza received a surprising amount of support from the crowd when she played Serena two years ago.
This time around, Williams is obviously the popular choice. As with Roger Federer on the men’s side, advancing age brings sentimental support.
There are never any guarantees that any Grand Slam champion will win another one. But in their mid-30s and beyond, the opportunities to do so are cherished all the more by the players and fans alike.
Muguruza will be up against that. She also will be up against a public that, in large part, doesn’t think there is any other tournament all season long besides Wimbledon.
Williams has won “their” tournament five times. She is therefore “theirs”. Muguruza is going to try to become one of theirs on Sunday.
WIMBLEDON – So often in sports, Cinderella stories can end before the clock actually strikes midnight.
The fairy-tale finish line sometimes is a little ahead of the actual one.
The more experienced, like Venus Williams and Garbiñe Muguruza in the Wimbledon semi-finals, have a more developed sense of pacing. They know, because they’ve done it before, where the true finish line is and have a better sense of direction about getting there.
That real finish line at Wimbledon is on Saturday. And the player who crosses it first will be holding up the Venus Rosewater Dish on famed Centre Court.
Venus will try for No. 6, at 37
At 37, Williams is writing a final chapter to her 20-year tennis career that is quickly becoming even more of a page turner than the many compelling chapters that came before.
Her 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 6-seeded Brit Johanna Konta Thursday was a master class in consistency and focus from a player whose technical flaws haven’t always allowed her that luxury. She’s been there, if not for many years. She’s done that. And she knew what to do.
For Konta, who didn’t play poorly but who didn’t play well enough, it was the best Wimbledon of her career by far. And it certainly offered hope that Great Britain can one day have a matched set: a modern women’s champion to go with modern men’s champion Andy Murray.
“She dictated the match from the very first ball till the very last one. I think she just showed her true qualities and why she’s a five-time champion here, just a true champion that she is,” Konta said. “It was very difficult for me to get a good foothold in the match. The few opportunities that I did get, she did incredibly well to take them away from me. I don’t think I did too much wrong out there. I think it was all credit to her.”
The difference came with the forehands. For both, it’s the weaker side. But Williams wouldn’t allow it to be a weakness on Thursday. Instead, she went about breaking down that side in her opponent.
Konta has improved the shot, to be sure. And in doing so she has brought herself into the top 10. But the ghosts of the older, poorer technique tend to appear like unwelcome weekend guests in extreme moments.
That’s true not just of Konta, but of any less-experienced competitor vying to achieve beyond what they’ve done before, against an opponent who has already done it.
Williams had a huge part in making that happen.
And after Konta had break points to go up 5-3 and serve for the first set – and didn’t make them – it was all but over. When your opponent is down break point, down to a second serve – and fires it in at 106 mph – you have to know you’re in for a tough day.
Muguruza to second Wimbledon final
Earlier, Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza ended the self-title “fairy tale” of 28-year-old Magdalena Rybarikova with an efficient 6-1, 6-1, dismantling. It took just 65 minutes and sent a loud message to the rest of the WTA Tour: I was lost, but now I’m found.
There was no doubt Rybarikova froze in the biggest moment of her career. Who wouldn’t, really? The Slovak might have dreamed of some day making the semifinals of Wimbledon. But after the year she has been through, with two surgeries and a long fight back up the rankings at the lowest levels of tennis, who knew it would be this year?
“Because she was the favorite, she had the pressure, she’s supposed to win this match. She handled it absolutely amazing. But I just wanted to play good match. I just wanted the crowd to enjoy that. I don’t think so they did because was very fast match,” Rybarikova said. “Even we had some very good rallies, but I was, like, sometimes I could not believe. Sometimes I really was great, and she played even better.”
Absent was the free-swinging, serene, grass-court craftswoman who upset soon-to-be No. 1 Karolina Pliskova earlier in the tournament. But such are the twists and turns of Cinderella stories. They tend to finish before the end – Jelena Ostapenko at the French Open being a notable exception.
Rybarikova admitted she was nervous, that her legs were a little weary, and that she didn’t handle the big occasion the way she would have liked. Mostly, though, there was too much Muguruza to counter.
The logic is that even if Rybarikova went no further, she could still close the book on a spectacular tournament. For Muguruza, who has played on the final Saturday here and has hoisted up the champion’s trophy at Roland Garros, the story needed to continue.
Muguruza find old self
Muguruza’s renaissance this Wimbledon has been somewhat unexpected, and throughly impressive. The reasons for it can only be speculative. But the one big difference for her this fortnight has been the presence of countrywoman Conchita Martinez at her side.
“I think she’s helping me to deal with the stress of the tournament, because it’s a long tournament. I’ve been here already since a while. … So she just knows, you know, how to prepare, how to train, what to do,” Muguruza said. “Not that I’m doing something different, honestly. But, you know, to have her by my side gives me also this little confidence on having someone that has won before.”
Spanish combo clicking
Martinez, who is both the Davis Cup and Fed Cup captain for Spain, won Wimbledon in 1994 and looks to be the chill to Muguruza’s ice.
Muguruza’s regular coach, Frenchman Sam Sumyk, is not here as he returned to California to await the birth of his first child with wife Meilen Tu, a former player and currently a player agent. Their frosty relationship has played out in public many times. Under his guidance, Muguruza won the 2016 French Open. But she hasn’t won a tournament since. She has not even made a final.
She said Sumyk is in regular contact.
“Conchita and Sam are really working together. Before I do something, they both decided. So it’s not that that magic is not happening. I think I’m here because I’ve been working not only the last few days, but longer time, getting ready for this kind of moment,” she said. “I think a lot of things are clicking also with her and the team this week, so it’s very nice.”
There have been some inexplicable early losses, including a 6-1, 6-0 loss to Barbora Strycova in Muguruza’s first match at Eastbourne the week before Wimbledon. But there have been recent glimmers of hope, including a three-set win over Venus Williams in Rome.
The player who destroyed Rybarikova Thursday was the old, aggressive, take-no-prisoners Muguruza. She took the net away from her more forward-thinking opponent by taking it over herself, It was welcome shift in tactics in the tournament, bringing back an element that had disappeared in recent months in tandem with Muguruza’s decision to forego doubles.
Been there, done that
When it comes to Saturday’s final, Martinez can be of significant help once again to her younger charge. She has not only been there; she has been almost exactly there. And she did that.
When Martinez won Wimbledon in 1994, she defeated a player who remains the oldest woman to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open era in Martina Navratilova.
Navratilova was a Wimbledon legend; Martinez was the Spanish outsider, although an accomplished one given she was the No. 3 seed.
Martinez was 22 then; Muguruza is 23. Williams is 206 days younger than Navratilova was in that 1994 final.
Will history repeat? Or will Williams add another major title to her resumé, her first in nine years?
If she does, at her age, it will be a victory for the ages.
“There were definitely some issues. I had a lot of issues. This year has been amazing in terms of my play, playing deep into the big events actually. Of course, I’m excited about being again in another final. Try to take it a step further,” Williams said. “There’s still a lot to be done. I have one more match that I’d like to, you know, be the winner of. I have to go out there and take it and play well. But I like to take courage in the fact that I’ve been playing well this tournament and this year, and all these moments have led to this.”
ROLAND GARROS – Reigning French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza kept insisting she wasn’t overly concerned about defending her title. Roland Garros was just another tournament. No big deal, bla bla bla.
No one really believed her. It may well be, in the end, she had trouble even convincing herself.
Muguruza was shuffled out of this year’s tournament Sunday both by No. 13 seed Kristina Mladenovic – and by 10,000 French supporters in a full-to-bursting Court Suzanne Lenglen.
How much of it was Mladenovic, who is having a great spring, and how much was the crowd in the 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 loss?
Hard to measure. In all likelihood, it was a combination of both, plus the occasion. The pressure that had visibly accumulated all season long finally reached a breaking point.
The French fans are never easy, especially when one of their own is playing. The Lenglen faithful were tough on Muguruza, who left the court wagging her index finger and shaking her head, “No, no,” at some fans.
They might have wanted her autograph, or a wristband. But since it was likely they had just spent the last two hours vociferously cheering her every mistake, that wasn’t going to happen.
A little more respect, please
“I just think that they were a little bit, sometimes should be a little bit more respectful. Even (during) the game, because we had to, you know, stop. The chair umpire has to always calm the crowd down,” Muguruza said afterwards. “I’m not here to create enemies. I mean, I love playing here.
“It’s not a good feeling.”
The 23-year-old Spaniard did her best to keep her cool on the court. But as the match went on, she became increasingly agitated.
She probably even felt as though the ballkids were conspiring to take their sweet time fetching her towel, because she started to bark at them.
In the end, despite some positive work during this tournament, some tough wins against good opponents that turned around her season to some extent, she didn’t make the second week.
“I obviously was a little bit nervous. Through the match I was getting more and more. Also because the feeling (the crowd effect). So it’s true that I couldn’t really find my game, but I don’t think I did really (anything) wrong out there. You know, I just think it went to her side, and that’s all,” Muguruza said.
Overcome with emotion
After a few questions during her press conference, all the emotions she had been holding back just sort of hit like a small wave. Visibly distraught, Muguruza left the interview room.
To her credit, she returned in short order. And she was even able to drop a bit of snark in answering the question that was being asked before she left. It was about whether she heard Mladenovic yelling out “Fuerza!!!” after some of Muguruza’s errors. Or it might have been “Forza!!”. Mladenovic has many options.
Mladenovic has been known to do that – shout out things like that in her opponent’s language. Muguruza said she didn’t hear it. “I think she speaks, like, 25 languages, I heard, so… ”
The Spaniard is a bit of a difficult player to get behind, partly because she doesn’t give you much. So many of her on-court emotions are negative ones – especially this season. Her consults with coach Sam Sumyk during the regular WTA Tour matches are uncomfortable to watch. In her interviews, she’s preternaturally composed. She speaks deliberately (and very well) in English, but without inflection.
But this one was a tough one. It’s a tough way to go about endearing yourself to people but on some level, it humanized her. Unless you’re a diehard French tennis fan, it was impossible not to feel for the position she was in.
Yes, a professional athlete should be able to just shut all that out. But they’re human. Afterwards, she was open and honest and vulnerable about just how challenging this first Grand Slam title defense was.
Muguruza had been expecting to play on the big court Sunday, Court Philippe-Chatrier. That was understandable given she’s the reigning champion, and her opponent is the No. 1 Frenchwoman.
The schedulers threw her a deliberate curve, no doubt about it.
Court Suzanne-Lenglen is a lovely court. But it’s more intimate than the main stadium. And because it doesn’t have as many corporate loges – all those expensive, but too-often empty seats you’ll see for many of the matches there – there was going to be a whole lot more noise and a whole lot more atmosphere.
It all played right into Mladenovic’s hands perfectly. The No. 1 Frenchwoman loves a crowd. And she especially loves a crowd that is unanimously cheering for her.
“I love this tournament no matter what happens. I’m going to be super happy to come back. I think it’s just – it’s gonna sound weird, but I’m actually happy that this stage of the year is done. … I think I’m going to feel much better now to continue the year, and everybody is going to stop bothering me, asking me about this tournament, so it’s going to be a little bit like, ‘Whew, let’s keep going’,” Muguruza said.
Muguruza’s ranking is going to take a hit. She’s likely to drop from No. 5 down to No. 14, with the 2,000 ranking points from a Grand Slam title coming off, and only some of them earned back with the fourth-round appearance.
“It’s such an important tournament for me. I’m sure it’s going to hurt. More than other tournaments,” said Muguruza. “But as I said, I’m quite pleased with my result. I’m not going to be too dramatic about this. I just had a very tough opponent today.”
Well, about 10,000 rough opponents. But who was counting?
KEY BISCAYNE – Things were a little touch-and-go on Team Muguruza during her second-round match against Christina Mchale. Coach Sam Sumyk appeared to opt not to come down to the court when his charge called upon him after the second set, and then gave her the what-for when he did take the court later. And there tears.
The atmosphere wasn’t warm and fuzzy during the last 20 minutes of Garbiñe Muguruza’s warmup for her third-round match against Shuai Zhang Saturday. You could, well, feel the tension.
These two are not all that chatty at the best of times. But this certainly felt a level above that.
The two didn’t exchange one word; Muguruza did bark something at coach Sam Sumyk at one point as she practiced her serve, but that was it. They may not even have gotten closer than 10 feet to each other the entire time. When it was over, she smiled and shook her hitting partner’s hand (generally on Tour, everyone shakes everyone’s hand after these practices and when there is another player involved, that’s a lot of handshakes).
Sumyk didn’t get a handshake; she packed her gear, nodded hello to a member of Agnieszka Radwanska’s team (they took over the court after Muguruza’s time was up), and walked off with the hitting partner leaving Sumyk to pick up the stray tennis balls.
She signed two or three autographs for the big crowd of fans gathered to wait for Rafael Nadal on the adjacent court. And then she was on her way.
Muguruza dropped the first set against Zhang, double-faulting on set point. But she gathered herself and pulled it out in three sets to win 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 and reach the fourth round. Sumyk came out twice during the match – without drama.
“The first set was few points difference honestly. Then in the second set I came stronger. I said, ‘Look, if yesterday I could come back, I can today as well.’ So I just keep my spirit up. I try to be more aggressive. I try to, I don’t know, be more positive; stop looking the negative things of losing the first set. Then everything went more like the – with more flow I think,” Muguruza said afterwards.
A date with either No. 12 seed Caroline Wozniacki or Romania’s Sorana Cirstea awaits.
Clearly all has not been well for awhile in Garbiñeland; she’s taken some bad losses, is nursing an ongoing ankle situation, and the relationship with Sumyk hardly seems warm and fuzzy.
But she’s doing a better job of fighting this week. And she’s going to need to build some momentum coming into the defence of her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in just two months.
“I’m just going through these situations with the best attitude possible, being humble, trying to accept it, and find my way,” she said.
The 2,000 ranking points Muguruza earned for winning the 2016 French Open will come off her scoresheet. They represent more than 40 per cent of her total. While a first-round loss there this year would only mean a loss of about 10 spots in the rankings – for now – it would take a lot of great results at smaller events to earn those points back.
With this fourth-round effort in Miami, she matches her result from a year ago when she lost in that round to Victoria Azarenka. At least, she can only gain ground from here, not lose any.