Melbourne (AFP) – Garbine Muguruza won only one match between June and December last year. Suffering illness, she was then thrashed 0-6 by a qualifier in her first set at the Australian Open.
Now the 26-year-old faces American surprise-package Sofia Kenin in the final in Melbourne on Saturday, on the cusp of a third Grand Slam title.
The Venezuelan-born Spaniard has been keen to play down the swift transformation in her fortunes, but the facts speak for themselves.
Dial back to July 2017, when Muguruza won Wimbledon to go with her French Open title a year earlier. In September 2017 she rose to world number one.
What followed was a gradual but marked decline that she is only reversing now.
Muguruza won one title in 2018, in Monterrey, Mexico, the other high point reaching the French Open semi-finals.
She retained her Monterrey crown in 2019 but lost in the first round at Wimbledon in July, precipitating a dire run where she reached only one second round in five tournaments.
In Melbourne, Muguruza bristled at one reporter’s suggestion that she had been stuck in a “coma” for the last two years.
“I think a ‘coma’ is a pretty strong comment. I would say I think those years were less successful if you compare them to my previous years,” said Muguruza, unseeded at a Grand Slam for the first time since 2014.
“I just think you struggle as a player and there are moments where things don’t go your way.
“You just have to be patient and go through the rough moments, just hang in there and it will come back again.”
Come back again it certainly has and Muguruza, now at 32 in the world rankings, will dart up to 11th if she beats Kenin in the final.
– ‘We felt ALIVE’ –
Despite giving the impression that she merely waited for her A-game to return, Muguruza in fact made two major decisions in November.
The first was to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. It was a test physically and mentally, says Muguruza, who hates cold weather.
It helped clear her head of tennis for a few days. “HELL YES! We felt ALIVE!” she exclaimed on Instagram.
More significantly, Muguruza reunited with fellow former Wimbledon champion and compatriot Conchita Martinez as her coach.
Martinez was on Muguruza’s team in 2017 when she won Wimbledon. The 47-year-old memorably said in Melbourne that they were the Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston of tennis — meaning they were destined to be together again.
The results were immediate. In her first tournament of the year Muguruza reached the semi-finals in Shenzhen. She then made the quarter-finals in Hobart, but pulled out with a viral illness.
She was still suffering the effects when she folded 0-6 in the first set to American qualifier Shelby Rogers in the first round in Melbourne.
Only just well enough to play, she says, Muguruza recovered to win the next two sets 6-1, 6-0, and her Australian Open had begun. She beat three top-10 seeds on the way to the final.
Martinez said Friday there was no magic bullet — they focused on Muguruza’s fitness at the beginning and worked on “a lot of aspects of her tennis”.
As for climbing mountains, Martinez believes it demonstrates Muguruza’s mental strength.
“She was stubborn enough to get to the summit,” Martinez said.
“I think that gives you something on the court where you might see something that is impossible, but everything is possible if you have the right mentality.
“She has the right mentality.”