Wimbledon ’18: Women’s singles draw analysis

WIMBLEDON – How to even begin to project a possible champion on the women’s side, when four of the top eight seeds have yet to even reach a Wimbledon quarterfinal in their careers?

That’s why predictions are a fool’s game, although it can be fun to be wrong as long as you can laugh at yourself, and weren’t foolish enough to wager on the outcome.

The only two former Wimbledon champions among the two eight are reigning queen Garbiñe Muguruza and No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova, who won it twice. They are also the only two to even reach the final.

One player (No. 1 Simona Halep) made a semifinal. Caroline Wozniacki, Elina Svitolina and Caroline Garcia have never gone past the fourth round. Sloane Stephens has made one quarterfinal, and big-serving Karolina Pliskova has lost in the second round five straight years.

Meanwhile, there are three former champions (Venus, Serena and Maria Sharapova) and three former finalists (Angelique Kerber, Genie Bouchard, Vera Zvonareva) outside that group.

Jelena Ostapenko, Victoria Azarenka, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Samantha Stosur all have Grand Slam titles on their resumés.

So what to make of it? 

Let’s dive in.

Potential third-round matchups

With Serena Williams, Sharapova and others seeded in the 20s, the big-time clashes will start early.

*[1] Simona Halep vs. [30] Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
*[15] Elise Mertens  vs. [22] Johanna Konta
*[12] Jelena Ostapenko vs. [24] Maria Sharapova 
[8] Petra Kvitova vs. [26] Daria Gavrilova

*[3] Garbiñe Muguruza vs. [26] Anett Kontaveit
*[14] Daria Kasatkina vs. [17] Ashleigh Barty
[11] Angelique Kerber vs. [18] Naomi Osaka
[6] Caroline Garcia vs. [27] Carla Suárez Navarro

*[7] Karolina Pliskova vs. [29] Mihaela Buzarnescu
*[9] Venus Williams vs. [20] Kiki Bertens
*[13] Julia Goerges vs. [23] Barbora Strycova
[4] Sloane Stephens vs. [31] Shuai Zhang

*[5] Elina Svitolina vs. [25] Serena Williams
*[10] Madison Keys vs. [19] Magdalena Rybarikova
[16] Coco Vandeweghe vs. [21] Anastasia Sevastova
*[2] Caroline Wozniacki vs. [32] Agnieszka Radwanska

In 11 of those 16 matchups, the lower seed has at least a decent chance to pull off the upset (those with asterisks).

That, of course, assumes all of them go according to form and make their seeding through the first two rounds.

Potential quarterfinals

[1] Simona Halep vs. [8] Petra Kvitova (or Sharapova)
[3] Garbiñe Muguruza (or Barty) vs. [6] Caroline Garcia (or Kerber)
[4] Sloane Stephens vs. [7] Karolina Pliskova (or Azarenka, or Venus)
[2] Caroline Wozniacki (or Radwanska, or Vandeweghe) vs. [5] Elina Svitolina (or Serena, or Keys)

See? There’s just no way

First-round matchups to watch

[12] Angelique Kerber (GER) vs. [Q] Vera Zvonareva (RUS)

These two are only a little more than three years apart, and both are former Wimbledon finalists. But surprisingly enough, they have never met.

Zvonareva had been off the Tour for awhile, as she married and had a baby. And that coincided with the period where Kerber rose to the top of the game. But still, it wasn’t as though Kerber was playing low-level ITFs when Zvonareva was around.

This will be the 2010 finalist’s first Wimbledon in four years.

[Q] Genie Bouchard (CAN) vs. [WC] Gabriella Taylor (GBR)

After toughing out three victories as she took part in qualifying for the first time, Bouchard ended up with a very kind draw for her first-round match.

Taylor, a 20-year-old ranked No. 182, won her first two matches on grass this season in Surbiton. She defeated countrywoman Heather Watson and Hungary’s Fanny Stollar back to back. Since then, she has lost three consecutive first-rounders.

Taylor defeated Bouchard’s countrywoman, Katherine Sebov, in the first round of the Wimbledon juniors in 2014. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

She played the junior Wimbledon event three times, and the women’s qualifying event four times. But this will be Taylor’s first Grand Slam main draw – of any kind.

[18] Naomi Osaka (JPN) vs. Monica Niculescu (ROU)

Niculescu, 30, has one fourth-round effort at Wimbledon on her resumé. That was 2015, and it’s one only two occasions where she has made the second week of a Grand Slam (the other was the US Open in 2011).

Her iconoclastic, funky game of slices and net rushes could frustrate the hard-hitting Osaka on grass. Or the Japanese player could just swipe it away. Either way, it will be fascinating to watch.

analysis

Niculescu’s problem is that she has very little play since Miami, and only one grass-court match, this week at an ITF event in Southsea.

Osaka’s problem may be an abdominal injury. She played Nottingham and Birmingham, but retired in her second-round match there against Dalila Jakupovic.

[6] Caroline Garcia (FRA) vs. Belinda Bencic (SUI)

Bencic is still only 21. But doesn’t it seems as though she’s already lived four tennis lifetimes?

The former No. 7 clawed her way back to a decent ranking when she returned from injury in September of 2017. In fact, she won 15 straight matches (with the loss of only one set) at the 125K and ITF level to close out the season.

And then she went to Hopman Cup and defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Osaka and Coco Vandeweghe (and all four of her mixed doubles matches with her scrub partner Roger Federer).

But since then, she’s not won two matches in a row. And she retired early in the second set of her last match, against a 25-year-old ranked No. 281.

We spotted Bencic out at the qualifying supporting her friend Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine, so she’s still the same fabulous person she ever was.

Garcia has never done particularly well at Wimbledon, even though she’s such a great athlete you’d think she could do well on any surface. So it’s an opportunity for both.

[10] Madison Keys (USA) vs. Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS)

These two are good pals, both having spent time training down in Boca Raton, Fla. They teamed up for doubles at the Australian Open a couple of years ago. And Keys has even played mixed doubles at Wimbledon with Tomljanovic’s boyfriend, Nick Kyrgios.

analysis

It’s what Mary Carillo would call “Big Babe Tennis”, with both hitting hard, and both actually being able to serve.

Tomljanovic is slowly getting her big serve back after shoulder surgery. But that’s a tough first-rounder for both.

The Serena factor

After all that discussion and debate, Serena Williams ended up seeded No. 25.

That means that in her first Wimbledon in two years, she cannot meet any of the top eight seeds until the third round.

But as previously discussed, there are plenty of trap doors in the draw before then – some of them more dangerous than many of the top eight.

In this case, the first round is an “ease your way in” one against Dutch qualifier Arantxa Rus. But the rest of Serena’s section isn’t half bad, with the very vulnerable Elina Svitolina her potential third-round opponent.

After that, she could be looking at Keys in the fourth round. But that’s if she gets there. Williams developed a pectoral muscle injury at the French Open, doing double-duty in singles and doubles despite not having played in two months.

Venus and Serena are not playing doubles at Wimbledon.

Former top 20 Ana Konjuh returns (video)

PARIS – Five years ago, 15-year-old Ana Konjuh held virtually every big junior title there was.

She won the Orange Bowl and the Eddie Herr in Dec. 2012 (actually, she was still 14 then).

She won the Australian Open juniors weeks later over Katerina Siniakova in the final (and also teamed up with Canadian Carol Zhao to win the doubles). 

Konjuh reached the semis in both singles and doubles in the French Open juniors, and the singles semis at Wimbledon.

And she capped off her junior career with a US Open junior title, during which she defeated reigning French Open (adult version) champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round, and American CiCi Bellis in the third round.

Those were fairly lofty credentials to bring to a pro career. By the time she was 19, last July, she hit the top 20 for a week and spent the entire season in the top 50.

And then, she disappeared.

Well, Konjuh is back for this French Open, after rehab following a second elbow surgery.

Out of the top 100

Konjuh missed four months after the first elbow surgery, which came shortly after she began her pro career after the Australian Open in 2014. She was just 16.

After last year’s US Open, she had a second surgery.

The Croat tried to come back in January; clearly, she wanted to play the Australian Open. But after a brief outing at a tuneup event in Brisbane, she fell off the charts again.

Her name appeared on plenty of entry lists. But she always ended up withdrawing. This time, she stuck.

Tough first round

Konjuh doesn’t have an easy one in her return to the courts. She faces No. 23 seed Carla Suarez Navarro.

To that end (purely coincidentally, no doubt), she played practice sets with Suárez Navarro’s countrywoman Garbiñe Muguruza Saturday.

It seemed definitely a random pairing. And if there was one takeaway from it, it’s that nearly all the points were pretty short.

Konjuh is definitely the epitome of today’s “aggressive player”. Which, in essence means that she can hit a lot of winners, but also cough up a lot of unforced errors.

She coughed up a bushel on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Muguruza is looking for a return to form.

The 24-year-old  won one match in Miami, and none in Indian Wells before running the table at a smaller event in Monterrey, Mexico in early April.

Her clay-court season has been less than inspiring. She retired in her first match in Stuttgart, lost in the third round in Madrid and lost a third-set tiebreak to Daria Gavrilova in her first match in Rome. That one was a bit of a shocker.

(Let’s note, though, that Muguruza is ranked No. 3 in the world. It’s not like she’s having a terrible life).

The Spaniard shocked the tennis world in 2016 when she defeated Serena Williams in the Roland Garros final.

(If you thought the frost in the air during Muguruza’s on-court consults with coach Sam Sumyk was limited to those brief encounters, you can see on this video that she pretty much ignores him – except when she’s arguing with him – as he’s non-stop coaching his butt off on the practice court. Brrr…..)

Muguruza has a tough opening match as well.

She faces another former champion in Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Kuznetsova has started up slowly after missing months because of a wrist issue. But one thing she does know how to do is win in Paris.

Who else is back?

Konjuh and Belinda Bencic, a pair of 1997s, reached the Wimbledon junior girls’ doubles final in 2012. They lost to Genie Bouchard and Taylor Townsend. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Belinda Bencic is back

The former No. 7, still just 21, has been out since Indian Wells.

Trivia: Bencic and Konjuh, a pair of 1997s, reached the Wimbledon junior girls’ doubles final in 2012 when Konjuh was 14, and Bencic just turned 15.

They lost to Genie Bouchard and Taylor Townsend.

That’s quite a crop of four players to track, in terms of the ups and downs of their careers.

Bencic has played just three tournaments this season, a year that began with so much promise when she upset Venus Williams in the first round of the Australian Open.

The Swiss player had battled back at the end of 2017, after missing nearly six months after wrist surgery and watching her ranking fall out of the top 300. This year, it was a foot injury. And Bencic has had periodic back problems.

Between the two of them, they could start a franchise.

Bencic got the best draw of all. She’ll meet qualifier Deborah Chiesa of Italy, Chiesa is a year older than Bencic, but currently ranked a career best No. 163. 

This is not only Chiesa’s first main-draw appearance in Paris, it’s her first appearance in Paris – period – since she made the doubles draw in the junior girls’ event five years ago.

Conchita Martinez out of Team Garbiñe

MIAMI, Fla. – As announced on her Twitter feed Wednesday, Conchita Martinez’s collaboration with world No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza is over.

Muguruza was ousted by No. 13 seed Sloane Stephens Monday in Miami, in the fourth round.

In retrospect, after Stephens gave up even fewer games (three) in the next round to Angelique Kerber, it certainly doesn’t seem like a bad loss, to the reigning US Open champion.

Muguruza lost her opening match at Indian Wells, in a shocker to qualifier Sachia Vickery.

“She has decided to go back working full-time (alone) with her coach. Like always it was great to work these past tournaments with her. I wish her and the rest of the team the best for the rest of year,” Martinez wrote.

Good Middle-East swing

Martinez was with Muguruza in Doha and Dubai last month. Muguruza reached the final in Doha and the semifinals in Dubai, narrowly losing (she was up a set, and lost a second-set tiebreak 13-11) to Daria Kasatkina.

“I think she’s a very calm person. And she has a lot of experience. This is not easy to find and it isn’t easy also to be in this difficult competitive environment and to get along with somebody very good,” Muguruza told the media in Doha before the Middle East swing.

“I feel I have an amazing team and I think I have one of the best coaches in the tour, which is Sam (Sumyk). And now [I have] also some experience that is going to help me, ‘the Conchita mind’. So yeah, I think it’s good.”

Garbiñe

The two first worked together last summer at Wimbledon, in the absence of full-time coach Sam Sumyk, who was at home awaiting the birth of his first child with wife Meilen Tu, a former player turned agent.

Muguruza won it, her second Grand Slam title.

Martinez acted as an additional mind, a complement to Sumyk – except when Muguruza’s regular coach wasn’t on site, when she would assume the reins.

It’s not unusual for players these days to have that tag-team approach, although it’s far less common on the women’s side because the WTA players, in general, don’t want to invest the money in additional coaching.

Muguruza’s next tournament is a small event in Monterrey, Mexico next week. She and Magdalena Rybarikova (No. 19) are the only two players ranked in the top 35 on the entry list.

It’s pretty clear there’s a whole lot going on behind the scenes.

Another early Brisbane exit for Muguruza

If nothing else, Brisbane is most definitely not Garbiñe Muguruza’s happy place.

And it’s even less so after the world No. 2 had to retire Tuesday.

Muguruza went into a full-body cramp while up a break in the third set against Krunic in her first official match of the season. It’s awful to watch a player suffering through that, and it takes some time for the body to recover.

Last year, Muguruza retired in the first set of her semifinal against Alizé Cornet, because of the right thigh that was so often wrapped tightly in 2017.

In 2016, she retired after the first game of the second set of her first match, against Varvara Lepchenko, with a left foot injury.

In 2015, she never even made it, pulling out before the tournament began with an ankle injury.

Muguruza isn’t a player who suffers cramps very often. Conditions in Brisbane Tuesday were extremely tough, even if there’s a roof atop Pat Rafter Arena to shield the players from the extreme sun.

There appeared to be no heat-rule break after the second set. At the very least, if there was, neither player took advantage of it.

“I felt in trouble in the second set when I was 2-0 up. “I start to feel my calves were cramping. I continued to think that with the match they might go away, but then they were increasing, increasing. And then I had a lot of part of my body cramping,” Muguruza told the media in Brisbane. “I cannot believe it. I don’t know. It’s a shame because I always come here excited the first tournament, and this one was bad luck, I guess.”

Short time to acclimate

Channel 7 commentator Sam Smith was straightforward in her assessment of Muguruza’s preparation. Smith said the conditions are so extreme, that players need at least a week to acclimate upon their arrival Down Under.  

Leaving from Los Angeles, Muguruza cut it a little close. And the situation was exacerbated by an issue with her Qantas flight on Tuesday night. The plane had to return to L.A. after two hours in the air because of a fuel issue. So Muguruza was delayed another 24 hours; she arrived only early Friday morning.

By early in the second set, Muguruza was clearly compromised. Up a set and 5-2 in the second set, her struggles allowed the always-game Krunic to catch up and sneak out the set.

By the end of that set, things were happening.

The ballkids handed Muguruza a bottle of water that was … frozen solid. So that was a high point.

Muguruza
Asking for water, Muguruza got a block of ice instead. Oops! (Screenshot: WTATV.com)

And then she changed her top, right on court, after dropping the second set. That’s something you don’t see that often. Most players use the one change-of-attire break they’re allowed to have a good think back in the locker room.

Muguruza
Muguruza decided to go for the quick on-court change, rather than hit the locker room after the second set. (Screenshot: WTATV.com)

Blisters, cramps – the whole nine yards

After that, Muguruza called out the trainer to have the one spot on her foot that didn’t already have tape on it, because of an apparent blister.

Muguruza
There was only one little slot available on Muguruza’s right foot for some tape, and she filled it. (Screenshot: WTATV.com)

Then, after going up 2-0 and before she served at 2-1, she called out coach Sam Sumyk for a coaching consult.

The interchanges between the two in the past often have been testy, borderline disrespectful.  Certainly, they are rarely pleasant to watch, which was the whole point of the on-court coaching addition to the “entertainment experience.”

With the new season, not much has changed between the two.

Sumyk: “We can’t keep fighting, if we keep complaining every point.”

Muguruza: “I’m cramping in the two quads – the two calves. I cannot complain?”

Sumyk: “No, not right now. Later, after the match. You complain to me if you want.”

Muguruza
“We can’t keep fighting, if we keep complaining every point.”” (Screenshot: WTATV.com)

After that edifying exchange, Muguruza went out and won the first point. Then she missed her first serve, and paused a couple of times to shake out her legs before hitting the second serve.

Krunic’s ball hit the line, but Muguruza just stopped playing as her right hand began to cramp.

The chair umpire, quickly realizing what was happening, called for the trainer at that point.

Muguruza won the next point with a forehand and gestured to her box. 

At 30-15, she made her first serve – and then the all-over cramps hit. You could see the nasty-looking bulge in her right calf.

And it was over.

No. 1 no longer in play for Muguruza

The loss means Muguruza cannot aspire to being the No. 1-ranked player and the No. 1 seed at the Australian Open. 

That honor could belong to current No. 1 Simona Halep (who will cement it if she defeats Ying-Ying Duan in Shenzhen Wednesday).

Or, Caroline Wozniacki can shock everyone by winning the tournament in Auckland.

(Screenshots from WTATV.com)

Plane issue delays Muguruza’s Oz arrival

Garbiñe Muguruza had already in the air, aboard her Qantas flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane, Australia for two hours Tuesday night.

Then, the plane turned around and headed back to L.A.

And so the world No. 2 now won’t arrive Down Under to start her 2018 campaign until the wee hours of Friday morning.

On the plus side, the top two seeds in the women’s event at the Brisbane International have first-round byes.

So the Spaniard may not have to play until Wednesday. That should give her enough time to acclimate.

But it’s not a great way to start a season.

Tennis.Life is told that the passengers on the flight, which originally was to leave Tuesday night around 11:30 p.m. PST and arrive in Brisbane around 7 a.m. Thursday morning, weren’t given much more information than anyone else.

The plane, an old 747, reportedly was losing fuel; luckily they were able to land safely back at LAX and go at it again, about 19 hours later.

It left LAX just after 6 p.m. PST Wednesday night, and is due to land at 1:11 a.m. Friday morning.

Christian Harrison also on board

Also on the flight with Muguruza are coach Sam Sumyk and the rest of her team.

Christian Harrison is on the longest trip of his life, starting with an aborted flight to Brisbane on Tuesday night. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

As well, we’re told American Christian Harrison, the younger brother of Ryan Harrison, also was on that flight.

Harrison’s trip will some way to go even when he arrives in Brisbane.

The 23-year-old is entered in the challenger in Noumea, New Caledonia (a French island).

So he will still have to get to Sydney,and then take another two hour, 45-minute flight to Noumea after that.

Harrison hasn’t travelled outside North America more than a handful of times in his entire tennis life. And much of that came when he was a very young junior, 8-9 years ago. 

This is by far the longest trip he’s ever taken as a tennis player. On the plus side, he’s the next one into the Australian Open qualifying. So the long voyage should have a happy ending.

Osuigwe among ITF 2017 world champions

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.

Recent winners have included Taylor Fritz (2015), Andrey Rublev (2014) and Alexander Zverev (2013). Good crop.

All-Spain on the pro side 

Osuigwe
The all-Spanish double honor as ITF World Champions for 2017 is the first since Americans Davenport and Sampras both won in 1998.

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.

Osuigwe

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.

Singapore WTA Tour Finals wrapup

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.

Disappearing doubles

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

Singapore

[1] Simona Halep
Grade: C-

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.

[2] Garbiñe Muguruza
Grade: C

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.

[3] Karolina Pliskova
Grade: B

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. 

[4] Elina Svitolina
Grade: C

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.

[5] Venus Williams
Grade: A+

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.

[6] Caroline Wozniacki
Grade: A+

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.

[7] Jelena Ostapenko
Grade: C

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.

[8] Caroline Garcia
Grade: A

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.

On her fourth try, Halep becomes No. 1

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.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaBIVVpHjq6j3tSyxwTE-8Q

Halep, like Pliskova (and Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic before them), ascended to the top spot before winning her first major title.

A bumpy road straightens out in Beijing

For Halep, older than all but Kerber, it was a long time coming.

Three times over the last four months, Halep was one victory away from claiming the top spot. The first three opportunities – in the French Open final against Ostapenko, at Wimbledon, and in Cincinnati – hadn’t gone well.

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.

Halep
Coach Anabel Medina Garrigues came out when Ostapenko was down a break in the second set, remind her of Halep’s “situation” and telling her to stay with her. She won eight straight points after that. But Halep was able to kill the momentum and go on to victory. (Screenshot: WTA.TV)

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.”

It took a few turning points.

The first may well have come when a frustrated Cahill briefly said goodbye after Miami.

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.

Halep
Halep looked slightly nauseous before she went out to serve for the match and the No. 1 ranking. But she did it with aplomb. (Screenshot: WTA.TV)

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.

Halep
The various suits came out for a photo op with the new No. 1 after the win. A nice touch would have been to add the members of Halep’s team on hand. (Screenshot: WTA.TV)

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.

Garbiñe Muguruza, who was supplanted with the Halep victory, ascended to the No. 1 spot after her fourth-round exit from the US Open when Karolina Pliskova failed to defend her finalist points from the previous year with a loss in the quarterfinals a few days later.

Pliskova became No. 1 on the second Tuesday at Wimbledon when Johanna Konta defeated Halep in the quarterfinals. Pliskova had gone out in the second round.

Angelique Kerber became No. 1 again last March when Serena Williams withdrew from Indian Wells and Miami, citing “bad knees that didn’t allow her to train.” Of course, it turns out there was a much better reason.

A year ago at the US Open, Kerber became No. 1 for the first time after Pliskova defeated Williams in the semifinal – before Kerber even took to the court for her own.

This time, it all came together as one.

One more step for Halep

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.

(All screenshots from WTA.TV)

Spanish Davis/Fed Cup captain fired

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.

Martinez
Captain Martinez hugs Muguruza after a win over Serbia in February, 2016.

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.

Here’s her statement (roughly translated from Spanish).

Disappointment and disrespect

“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.

Martinez
The Spanish Fed Cup team beat Italy a year ago, and proudly carried the flag.

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.

Escañuela was suspended, then resigned. 

New president promises transparency

Martinez
The top Spanish players, Martinez, and the new federation president all look like one big happy family here, don’t they? (Photo: RFET)

The new president, Miguel Díaz Román, was elected a year later and promised change and transparency.

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

Martinez
Former Fed Cup captain proudly poses with new Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza at the champions’ dinner this year. In the absence of Sam Sumyk, Martinez was a chill and supportive presence as Muguruza took her first steps towards becoming the WTA’s new No. 1

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.

Update

A piece in El Español posits a few candidates. And it indicates that ever since the French Open, the new board had decided Martinez was a (three-year) interim solution. But it wasn’t a long-term one. 

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.

Muguruza soars to first Wimbledon title

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.

Muguruza
Williams, alone with her thoughts for a brief moment during the trophy ceremony.

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?

Second-set disaster

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?

Perhaps.

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.

Muguruza
Two years after her first appearance in the final, Muguruza gets her name etched on the trophy. (Wimbledon.com)

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.

Maximizing Muguruza

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.

Muguruza
Muguruza gets a nice hug from an always-gracious five-time champion

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.

It took two years, and it took a crushing win over her big sister, but Serena was right.