Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
COME BACK FOR LIVE SCORES & LIVE BLOG FROM 26 JUNE
Shortly after leaving a cacophonous Court Suzanne Lenglen following her fourth-round defeat at the hands of Kiki Mladenovic at Roland Garros, defending champion Garbiñe Muguruza sat in front of reporters in her post-match press conference and cried.
She left the room, composed herself, and returned a different person. Gone was the uneasy champion, whose French Open title had been more burden than breakthrough those past 12 months.
The Spaniard was in an instant defiant, determined - the Muguruza those who long considered her a Grand Slam champion-elect had known before she confirmed their suspicions.
“After the match against Mladenovic I thought, she wants to do something big next time,” recalls Marta Mateo, a Spanish freelance sportswriter, who saw Muguruza depart the clay amid a chorus of unwarranted jeers - the price of pushing the home hope in Paris.
“She was going really well towards the second week in Paris, dealing with pressure, dealing with expectations, dealing with it all – then she had everything against her. At that particular moment, I thought, she wants to do something big.”
She’s on the verge. Muguruza is into her second ladies’ singles final at The Championships, her third Grand Slam final in as many years. Like her opponent, Venus Williams, the 23-year-old has dropped one set en route to the final – against No.1 seed and last year’s finalist Angelique Kerber in the fourth round, one of the finest matches of these Championships.
What’s more, her run has come with her coach Sam Sumyk back home with his pregnant wife and Conchita Martinez, the 1994 champion, stepping in to help her compatriot.
As stand-ins go, Muguruza could do worse - Martinez is the sole Spanish woman to win the ladies’ singles title, and a familiar face on the practice court.
“I thought that was a handicap, not having her lead coach with her, but everything is really working out with Conchita,” Mateo said. “They have done preseasons together. It was maybe three years ago, when she was working with Alejo Mancisidor, that Conchita joined them in order to help Garbine with the net, coming forward and volleying.
At the biggest tournaments, she knows how to show up
“I don’t think they have changed anything huge. They talk every day with Sam and discuss everything. But the most important Conchita has brought is her tranquility. She’s very calm, very quiet, and wants to make everything more simple. You have your own game, you don’t need to do crazy things, you just need to know when to make certain decisions, more than any technical, tactical thing.”
It is one of the confounding paradoxes of Muguruza’s career that victory on Saturday would leave the 2016 French Open champion with as many Grand Slam trophies as WTA Tour-level titles.
But if nothing else, it proves that Muguruza is built for the sport’s great stages, with an all-court game that can be adapted to thrive on any surface.
“With Muguruza, what has impressed me in this tournament is irrespective of who she’s playing – Kerber, Svetlana Kuznetsova or Magdalena Rybarikova – I didn’t see any difference in her game,” added Reem Abulleil, managing editor of Sport360.com. “It always blows my mind when players say, ‘I never look at the other side of the net, I only look at myself.’ You kind of need to look at the other side of the net!
“But with Garbiñe, for some reason it’s working perfectly. At one point in her semi-final win over Rybarikova, she hit a return winner down the line and she was walking to the bench before the ball even touched the court. She didn’t know where Rybarikova was standing – she just hit it, walked to her bench, and sat down with a 3-0 lead.”
“She’s a better hunter than hunted,” says Courtney Nguyen, Senior Writer for WTA Insider. “I called her the lightning bolt in one of my previews. She comes and makes her first Grand Slam final here in 2015, and is confused by it all – she doesn’t like the grass, but it all comes together and she makes that final in dominant form. Then in 2016 the French Open was her only title that year. She hasn’t made a final since – and boom, here she is.
“In a lot of ways, she’s the favourite going into the final. It’s what she does. I wish she could do it more consistently on tour, but I also know at the biggest tournaments, she knows how to show up.”
Muguruza’s run at The Championships has been impressive, with wins over two top-10 seeds off the back of a patient focus and savvy net game.
At 37, Williams is 14 years her senior, and a very different player to the Spaniard’s other second-week opponents – far more explosive off the ground, and capable of dictating play and hitting through the court.
“Venus is coming in having played hitters, so she’s going to be used to what Muguruza’s going to throw at her, whereas Muguruza has to make the adjustment,” Nguyen adds. “The first three or four games will be interesting. I’m not entirely convinced she’s going to beat Venus from the baseline.”
Two years on from her first Grand Slam final, Muguruza knows what to expect. But the lion’s share of experience, inevitably, falls with Williams, who has lifted the Venus Rosewater dish before – five times
“It’s Venus,” Mateo added. “She’s been here nine times, and she’s only lost against her sister in the finals. There are so many question marks – they haven’t played on grass, so you don’t really know what to expect. I’m assuming that for Garbiñe the main focus will be to try to move Venus as much as she can, but at the same time it will be a battle of who dictates the points.
“It’s a tricky one. I would say that it’s more on Venus’s side, given her history – basically Centre Court is her garden. But if someone can beat Venus here, apart from Serena, it’s Garbiñe for sure.”