Garbine Muguruza: A career of ups and downs reaching its peak again in Melbourne

andrew hendrie:

Garbine Muguruza wasn’t in the conversation for the Australian Open title before the tournament started, but should we really be that surprised the former World No. 1 is playing for the silverware on Saturday?

For me, it was always a matter of when and not if in regards to Muguruza finding herself competing on the second Saturday of a Grand Slam again, and after a Herculean effort over the last fortnight in Melbourne, she once more stands on the cusp of Grand Slam glory.

But if I’m being honest, I definitely didn’t expect it to happen at the 2020 Australian Open, where she arrived at the tournament suffering from a viral illness and lost the first set 0-6 in her opening round. However, since then she’s been a woman on a mission, conquering three top 10 players in straight sets to surge into the final, where she’ll face Sofia Kenin for the title on Saturday night.

Ahead of the final, we take a look Muguruza’s rollercoaster career timeline and how she’s returned to a fourth Grand Slam title match.

2012-14 – Initial rise

Muguruza wasn’t one to play much junior tennis – in fact, she only had a 12-4 record in her entire career before turning professional, reaching a peak ranking of No. 302. The Spaniard, who was born in Venezuela, instead opted to test herself against the women, and it didn’t take long for her to make an impact as she was handed a wildcard through IMG connections to her first WTA main draw at the Premier Mandatory Miami Open in 2012. Quite the baptism of fire, but Muguruza showcased then that she was a star of the future, upsetting the likes of Vera Zvonareva and Flavia Pennetta before going down in the Round of 16 to eventual champion Agnieszka Radwanska.

Garbine Muguruza in 2013 (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

Going on to crack the top 100 that season while just 18 years of age, Muguruza continued to rise in 2013 and again impressed during the Sunshine Swing, making the fourth round at both Indian Wells and Miami, this time defeating Caroline Wozniacki at the latter. On the cusp of the top 50 at season’s end, Muguruza won her first WTA title right at the start of 2014 in Hobart, while she also made headlines at the Australian Open, where she beat Wozniacki again to reach the fourth round of a major for the first time. By the end of 2014, she was a top 20 player, earned a win over World No. 1 Serena Williams at the French Open and World No. 2 Simona Halep in Wuhan and ready to challenge for the sport’s biggest prizes.

2015-17 – Grand Slam champion and World No. 1

A total of 22 top 10 scalps would be claimed by Muguruza over this three-year period as she captured two Grand Slam titles and reached the pinnacle of the sport, securing the No. 1 ranking on September 11, 2017. Going on to establish herself as one of the heavyweights of women’s tennis, Muguruza first had to suffer heartbreak as she lost the Wimbledon final in 2015, where Serena got her revenge from the French Open the previous year. With a run to the Premier Mandatory China Open title in Beijing, Muguruza became the first Spaniard to qualify for the WTA Finals since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 2001, advancing to the semi-finals and attaining a career-high ranking of No. 4.

Garbine Muguruza after winning the 2016 French Open (Photo by Henri Szwarc/ABACAPRESS.COM)

Muguruza had a slow start to 2016, but she turned it all around at Roland Garros in a run not too dissimilar to what she’s currently doing in Melbourne. She lost the first set in her opening round, but went on to reach her second major final without dropping set – and she saved her best for last, blowing away Serena in the final by a 7-5 6-4 scoreline. However, Muguruza would then struggle for the rest of the year, losing in the second round of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, while she also went down early in Beijing, where she was defending champion – and as a result, she finished 2016 at No. 7 in the world.

But the rollercoaster ride that is Muguruza’s career scaled fresh heights once more in 2017. Losing in the fourth round of Roland Garros to Kristina Mladenovic in front of a hostile Parisian crowd, Muguruza dropped out of the top 10 – but, incredibly, she was World No. 1 just a couple of months later as she conquered Venus Williams in straight sets to win her second Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, becoming the first player in history to beat both Williams sisters in major finals. With Rafael Nadal also World No. 1, it marked the first time since the USA 14 years previously that a player from the same country simultaneously held the No. 1 ranking on the ATP and WTA Tours. Muguruza was named WTA Player of the Year at the end of the seas and was seemingly ready to establish herself as a dominant force in women’s tennis.

Garbine Muguruza at the US Open in 2018 (PA Images)

2018-19 – Severe slump

To say that didn’t quite eventuate would be an understatement. These two years saw the Muguruza rollercoaster dip to its lowest point as she made it past the fourth round of a slam just once and earned a total of five top 10 victories – compared to the 22 of the previous three years. Muguruza would win just two lower-tier International titles in Monterrey, Mexico and by the end of 2019, she would slip to a year-end ranking of No. 36 – her lowest since 2013 when she was still a teenager.

Muguruza’s forehand became a significant weakness and her relationship with long-time coach Sam Sumyk reached boiling point on countless occasions. It got to a point where the two couldn’t possibly co-exist, so after a first round loss at Wimbledon in 2019, Muguruza eventually announced the pair had split and gone their separate ways. Muguruza didn’t immediately return to winning ways however, losing in the first round of the U.S. Open.

2020 – Return to prominence?

After an off-season hike to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, Muguruza has entered the new decade with a fresh wave of confidence and seemingly a renewed approach to her tennis. Linking back up with countrywoman Conchita Martinez – who guided her to the 2017 Wimbledon title – Muguruza has returned to her best tennis in Melbourne, blasting her way through the draw after illness threatened to derail her campaign in the opening round. Suddenly just one win from securing three of the four majors, is 2020 the year where Muguruza returns as a permanent fixture at the top of tennis?