WTA Finals win a timely reminder of Garbine Muguruza's quality as she continues on road to redemption

Garbine Muguruza continued her renewed ascent up the ladder with a win in the WTA Finals. The key now would be to sustain this form in 2021.

Garbine Muguruza poses with the WTA Finals trophy. (Twitter: @WTA_insider)

The final point of the final in the WTA Finals was not hard fought, neither did it feature an amazing winning shot. Anna Kontaveit played a backhand shot that found the net. It was as standard an unforced error as is possible in the sport of tennis. Yet the impact on Garbine Muguruza was massive – and it showed.

She fell to the floor, unable to control her tears. When she did get up, the tears continued to flow. Sport loves a good redemption story, and the tale of Muguruza’s rise, fall and then rise again is as good as they come.

Her victory in the WTA Finals final makes her the oldest winner since Serena Williams seven years ago. Additionally, she is the first-ever Spaniard to win the prestigious year-end title.

The 28-year-old finishes the year ranked Number 3, a massive achievement considering she ended 2019 ranked 36th. And understandably, she has no intentions of stopping any time soon.

“I’m just very happy I proved to myself once again I can be the best, I can be the ‘maestra,’ like how we say in Spanish,” Muguruza told journalists after the win.

“That puts me in a very good position for next year, a good ranking.”

How good her ranking will be in the upcoming season remains to be seen. For now though, she can enjoy the fruits of labour that took more time than expected to come good.

After all, it is easy to forget that Garbine Muguruza is a two-time Grand Slam winner and has won WTA titles before too. But such has been her fall from grace – and the rise of many others on the WTA Tour – that few thought a comeback possible.

Garbine Muguruza – the rise and the fall

2016 and 2017 were arguably her best years as far as results. She won the French Open in 2016, which was her maiden Grand Slam title. And she followed this up with a win at Wimbledon in the next year.

What’s more, she even managed to become the world’s number 1 ranked player for the first time. That she did not retain the ranking till the end of the year was, in some ways, a sign of things to come.

2018 was meant to be the year the then-youngster of Spanish and Venezuelan heritage kicked on to the next level. Instead, her results were up and down. Her performances in the Grand Slams in particular left a lot to be desired.

In the Australian Open, she lost to world No. 88 Hsieh Su-wei in the second round. At Wimbledon, she became the defending champion with the earliest exit from the tournament since Steffi Graf in 1994 with a second-round exit.

She ended the year ranked 15th, but worse was to come in 2019. She struggled horribly in all the Majors, and after the US Open, cut her season short and shocked everyone by undertaking a trip to Mount Kilimanjaro.

This affected her ranking further, and she was now 36th in the world. However, the break from the grind of the Tour clearly helped refocus her mind.

“It was a very hard challenge, completely different to what I do,” Muguruza told reporters at the 2020 Australian Open.

“You’re climbing that mountain, and it’s only you. I really like the experience to see myself in the middle of nowhere and, yeah, just having one clear thought just to keep climbing.”

It is that single-minded focus that has seen her claw her way back up the rankings.

The road ahead

However, as the old saying goes, “time and tide wait for no one”. In the time that Muguruza’s fall and rise has taken place, the sport has welcomed new stars aplenty.

Iga Swiatek, Barbora Krejcikova, Maria Sakkari and Paula Badosa, Ons Jabeur and even Kontaveit all made it to the top 10 of the WTA Rankings for the first time.

The likes of Emma Raducanu, Coco Gauff and Leylah Fernandez have also risen to the challenge and look poised to be forces for years to come.

So the tennis landscape of now is very different to the one Garbine Muguruza was familiar with. However, if there’s one thing that holds her in good stead, it’s that she’s been on top before – and fallen right back down.

Not only does she have what it takes to climb back up, she is also better prepared to avoid the pitfalls. And, perhaps most importantly, she has an iron-clad confidence in her own abilities.

As she put it after the winning her maiden WTA Finals event, she knew she had the game to succeed. She just needed to show it.

“The last couple of years, I didn’t play the same way I played before. But I didn’t play a bad tennis, either; I was just here, there. Not going into the deep rounds at Grand Slams that made the difference. I always felt I had the tennis. I was just not putting the battle together.

“I’ve made finals of a Grand Slam, reached the rankings, I’m like, I have the tennis, I just have to show it. It’s hard, of course.”

Except now, it’s not so hard for her. And that is something that the entirety of the WTA Tour should be worried about going into 2022.

Shayne Dias

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