French Open final preview: Serena v Muguruza
Originally published on 03/06/16 00:00
When Garbine Muguruza played Serena Williams in the 2015 Wimbledon final, she was comfortably the underdog. Since then, the gap has undeniably closed, and the world No.4 has a great opportunity to win her first Grand Slam title by beating the American in Saturday's French Open final.
After a difficult first-round encounter with Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Muguruza breezed through the next five matches without dropping a set and looks to be in sublime form. By contrast, Serena was severely tested by three relatively unheralded opponents – Kristina Mladenovic, Yulia Putintseva and Angelique Kerber’s conqueror Kiki Bertens – and has struggled for fluency at times and admitted after her semi-final win over Bertens that she has been struggling with an adductor strain.
Muguruza, who is the first Spanish woman since Conchita Martinez in 2000 to reach the French Open final, has no reason to fear Serena. While she has lost three of her four previous matches against Williams, Muguruza has form in Paris, beating the world No.1 6-2 6-2 at Roland Garros in 2014.
All four of their previous meetings have come at Grand Slams, and while Muguruza lost their first meeting at the 2013 Australian Open 6-2 6-0, two years later in Melbourne she won the first set 6-2 before going down in three sets. And in last year’s Wimbledon final, she had chances to win a tight first set and was never overawed during her 6-4 6-4 defeat.
"Emotions can sometimes be bad when you make a final," said Muguruza after her 6-2 6-4 win over Samantha Stosur in the semi-finals. "Sometimes you just have to stay calm, prepare yourself as best you can and play with no regrets."
But no matter how good the signs are for Muguruza, Williams will not give up her French Open title without a fight and regardless of her form, the world No.1 remains the favourite to equal Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 Grand Slam titles. Williams has also experienced virtually every imaginable match situation over the course of her 26 previous Grand Slam finals.
However, there is one question she is yet to answer satisfactorily: can she handle the pressure of trying to match Graf? She has come up short in the last two majors – the 2015 US Open semi-final against Roberta Vinci and the 2016 Australian Open final against Angelique Kerber.
In Melbourne, Kerber was able to put Williams under pressure early on, and that match provides an interesting blueprint for the Spaniard. With more firepower, it should be easier for Muguruza to put the world No.1 under pressure than it was for Kerber.
Whatever happens, we can expect plenty of big-hitting from both women and an array of spectacular winners from both baselines. And whoever wins, history will be made on Court Philippe Chatrier this weekend.