Having long carried herself with the regal bearing of a tennis monarch, Garbiñe Muguruza officially has the ranking status to match. As a result, having fulfilled a lifelong dream to reach No.1 following a fourth round appearance at the US Open, the Wimbledon singles champion now feels like the favourite every time she plays.
Is that a good thing?
“I think I’m going to say more yes than no, because it’s a great thing to have,’’ the Spaniard before said her opening match at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open against Ukranian Lesia Tsurenko.
“That pressure everywhere you go, that responsibility, I think it’s good to have it. It’s worst if you are there and nobody expects you to win.’’
Lack of expectation, or ambition, have not been issues for Muguruza, who went 13 months between singles titles, but made sure the bookends were two of the sport’s four majors. Big occasions, the Grand Slams, are what motivate her; they are what the 23-year-old likes to say she is “kind of made for’’. And they for her.
“For sure it’s a great accomplishment to be able to say I won already two, (when) I become No.1,’’ she says, when asked about the credibility that silverware bestows. “When I won Wimbledon, I was thinking the next good thing obviously is to keep winning grand slams, as I always say, holding the trophies, but my dream was also always to become No.1.
“So to have both things, it’s good. Some players they get one thing, others get another thing. But to have both, for sure I can cross that (off). But now all I want is to keep this up, keep winning and keep holding the ranking and all of that.’’
Muguruza’s first event after succeeding Czech incumbent Karolina Pliskova was last week in Tokyo, where she won two rounds before a semi-final thrashing from eventual champion Caroline Wozniacki. A new and slightly “tricky” situation felt different, but not hugely.
“I felt like I was the favourite, of course,’’ she says. “I feel like I’m the favourite everywhere I go, kind of. But I felt like ‘I’m playing all these players every day. It’s not going to be different today’. I was happy that I could at least play a few matches.’’
Others who have gone before her have spoken of the external demands that comes with the peak ranking, the lack of downtime, the feeling of being pulled in many directions. Each to their own, says Muguruza, who is determined to manage her on-court schedule and retain tennis as her priority. It is, she says, working so far.
“What I do feel is that when you reach something that you think is incredible, there is a new door opening,’’ she explains. “Like when you (first) go out of your village, you think you’ve seen everything. But when you go out of the city ‘Oh, my God’.
“That’s how I feel right now. I’m reaching No.1. I feel like I’ve been in every spot in the top 10. Now it’s a whole new situation. I feel like slowly, little by little, I kind of prepared myself. It’s not suddenly ‘oh, I’m (in the) No.1 spot with one tournament.’’
It was busier, she recalls, straight after her Wimbledon triumph over Venus Williams, and with the Asian swing to complete the women’s year, a break is not too far away. Whether Garbine is still No.1 when 2018 dawns is still to be decided, but the crown is fitting nicely for now.