French Open 2016: Major star born in Paris, as Garbine Muguruza beats Serena Williams

Garbine Muguruza beats world number one Serena Williams in straight sets to win her first Grand Slam title at the French Open

The title bout at this year’s French Open between Serena Williams and Garbine Muguruza really had the feel of a final for the ages, played as it would be between two women separated by a full 12 years in age.

On one side, the 34-year-old Williams, playing in her 15th Roland Garros and the three-time former and defending champion, was the oldest ever No1, the oldest winner of Wimbledon, the Australian Open and Roland Garros, and was playing for Grand Slam history. She may have 21 Major singles titles, but she was no less hungry for another to draw level with Steffi Graf’s the Open era record of 22.

Her semi-final win over Kiki Bertens took her total match-wins at Roland Garros to 60 and she arrived on the back of a timely 70th career title on Rome’s clay.

On the other side was the 6ft 22-year-old Muguruza. Though tipped for great things since she burst onto the scene in 2014 with a fourth-round run in Australia and the quarter-finals at Roland Garros, the young Spaniard who claims nine-time men’s champion Rafael Nadal as her inspiration, was about to play just her second Grand Slam final—and her first final of any kind this year. And with just three titles to her name, not one had come on the red stuff.

Should she beat Williams, she would become just the second woman born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam, but although she had climbed to No4 in the rankings, her 2016 season had been far from dazzling: Rome produced her first semi-final.

The contrasting ages and career trajectories of the two women made their combined match-history all the more striking. Four times they had met, and every time in Grand Slams. What’s more, Muguruza had dealt Williams a second-round defeat here two years ago, and then faced her in the Wimbledon final last year, where the 6-4, 6-4 scoreline did little justice to the intensity of the match.

So Muguruza had experience of Williams on big stages, and had tasted victory on this very clay. And for many, she had been playing the most calm and confident tennis in Paris all fortnight. Yes, she had a winning chance.

Williams, as is her way, opened with a statement service game, four big deliveries, a love hold. She clearly felt less hot than she looked, though: At the change of ends, 2-1, she put on her long-sleeved top—and kept it on, along with her leggings, all match.

Muguruza took longer to settle into her rhythm, and came under huge pressure in the fourth game. She fought off two break points, double faulted, but finally endured the 10-minute test. And that seemed to be just the warm-up she needed to unleash her smart and powerful game. With Williams missing too many first serves, the Spaniard stepped in to attack the second, and Williams double-faulted on a third break point.

Now it was Muguruza who double-faulted, twice, only too aware of the dangerous returns that Williams can unleash. But it was not until the eighth game that Williams did break back, 4-4, yet still her serving was inconsistent: She hit two aces and a double fault before holding.

Mugurza, meanwhile, was going from strength to strength and she slowly but surely won the biased crowd her way with her bold and brave strikes from the baseline. A wrong-footing bullet wide to the backhand wing seemed to strain a Williams hamstring, though whether that was the cause of a double fault and a poor drop-shot attempt from the American was not clear. Mugurza pressured deep to the forehand wing to break.

The Spanish woman showed huge self-confidence and composure to withstand two more break points and numerous deuces in another long test of her serving, but fired a stunning backhand drive to hold for the set, 7-5. She had won just a single point more than Williams.

Both suffered opening breaks in the second set courtesy of some remarkable returns of serve, but Muguruza broke in the third game as she again punished too many second serves with some superb first-strike returns.

Finally Serena had to serve to save the match, 3-5, but was missing more than half her first deliveries—and would face four match points before she held. But it simply delayed the ushering in of a worthy new champion.

Muguruza, not fazed one iota by missing her chances to close out the match, served it out to love, 6-4, by dropping a final lob onto the baseline. All a helpless Williams could do was smile, all Muguruza could do was look at her box in astonishment.

That this is just the young Spaniard’s third ever title and comes, like her previous biggest final in SW19, in tennis’s biggest arenas, shows that his bright, charming and elegant woman has the game and temperament for the big stage.

She has also, it seems, gained in confident and composure since tying up with the former coach of Victoria Azarenka, Sam Sumyk, last autumn. She is both physically and mentally stronger this year, yet has lost none of her bubble and fizz when she puts down her racket. She is, it is safe to say, a great new champion to have in women’s tennis.

Williams was close to tears as she thanked the fans and her team, in French, for their support—and promised to try again next year. She remains No1 at least until Wimbledon, where she will arguably have her best chance of getting that big No22.

However, Muguruza rises to a career-high No2—and don’t be surprised if it is again the Spanish star who Williams finds across the net on final Saturday.

Incidentally, that ‘other’ man in Muguruza’s corner, Nadal, wasted no time in Tweeting to her: “Congrats Garbine for your win at Roland Garros. Great news for Spanish tennis!”

There were perhaps few who, two weeks ago, thought it would be her name on Roland Garros’ winner’s trophy rather than his.

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