Two years after losing in the final here to Serena Williams, Garbiñe Muguruza broke through for her first Wimbledon title with an ultimately commanding and one-sided win over her sister Venus.
If the 37-year-old Williams had been struck by the debilitating Sjogren’s syndrome that first hit her six years ago, she had every excuse, because she had put up stout resistance in the first frame. It has been a tough time for her, all round. Twelve days after she broke down in tears when confronted by questions about a fatal car accident that still hang over her, Williams could not find consolation in victory. Her collapse was dramatic, although she took defeat stoically, knowing she had been beaten out of sight by a young opponent who found all her weapons working perfectly at just the time when the energy vanished from the American’s tennis.
Williams smiled broadly as she congratulated the winner courtside. “Well done today. Beautiful,” she said. “There have been a lot of beautiful moments the past couple of weeks.” She said she missed her sister, who is expecting her first child, but promised to be back.
However, the sunny face she put to the Centre Court audience and the BBC’s Sue Barker was markedly at odds with her subsequent, weird performance in front of the print media, when she rambled and obfuscated as if playing a private game. Asked if she felt tired, she said: “Yeah, I think she played amazing. She played amazing.”
Courtside, Muguruza had said: “She’s such an incredible player. I grew up watching her play so it’s incredible to play the final [against her] here. Of course I’m nervous. I’ve always dreamed to be here. The first set was very tough. We both had a lot of chances. Serena told me two years ago that one day I was going to win. So here I am.”
Looking down from the stands was her coach, Conchita Martínez, who took part in the last Spanish-American final, beating Martina Navratilova in 1994. History is never far from any racket in tennis. Just half an hour into the final, the match looked as if it would be one of the longer ones – which the game badly needs. There have been some terrific contests the past fortnight – Johanna Konta’s matches against Donna Vekic and Simona Halep and Muguruza’s three-setter against Angelique Kerber in the fourth round.
But there was an unspoken concern that the final might be a disappointment, an anticlimax because of the overload of emotion attached to it. Venus had been in a curiously downbeat mood after beating Konta in the semi-finals and Muguruza was edgy in her post-match dealings with the media.
On the court, they did not disappoint. As her serve came under the most extreme pressure in the 10th game of the first set, the Spaniard first outlasted Williams in a 19-shot rally, saved a second set point with her giant serve and held when her opponent struck a forehand long. The match had already been going 41 minutes. The crowd wanted more.
It was Williams’s turn to suffer in the next game. She saved one break point for deuce but overcooked a cross‑court drive and Muguruza sensed an almost indiscernible weakening in the American as she stepped up to serve. There was just one point between them – and then a whole set.
Muguruza produced the shot of the match, a perfectly judged lob that outfoxed Williams and gave her two set points. Williams found the ad corner to save the first but the net with a backhand to lose the second.
If age had wearied her limbs it had not invaded her spirit and, knowing she would have to win two sets in a row to lift the title, she settled down to the chore, but the mistakes mounted, worryingly. When she double-faulted after a successful Spanish challenge of a called ace on a first effort, the break gave Muguruza a noticeable lift at the start of the second set.
She had lost her serve only four times to get here. But, even though the rallies remained long, the bruises mounted quickly. If she was going to stay in the fight, she needed a quick hurtful counter to stop her lively opponent’s momentum.
Muguruza still had to play flat out to hold for two-love but the power suddenly drained from the Williams serve, down to 80 miles an hour, allowing the Spaniard to dictate the points. There were no cheap points on offer and even when the ball did sit up for her, Williams could not put it away, butchering a forehand volley at the net that handed Muguruza another break. The first set had lasted 51 minutes; five or so minutes into the second, the contest was dissolving with bewildering speed.
A 104mph serve hurtled past Williams’s limp racket and she was hitting big off the ground in nearly every exchange, long or short. A four-love lead looked like an impossible mountain now.
The times when Williams was not heaving the ball over the net, it quite often went long or wide, and Muguruza had only to hold her concentration to cruise to the line. The crowd rose to encourage Williams at 0-40 in the fifth game, but Muguruza advanced on a weak second shot to tap home the winner into the empty deuce corner for another break.
Her hand might have trembled a little as she served for the championship as Williams scrapped for a couple of consolation points, before the most disappointing of conclusions: a challenge to the last Williams forehand that found the ball a good inch beyond the baseline.