Wimbledon | Women’s Final Preview: Garbine Muguruza poses formidable hurdle for resurgent Venus Williams – While it was Conchita Martinez who defeated Martina Navratilova in 1994, standing in the way of Venus Williams and a sixth title, an almost unthinkable 17 years after her first, is the tall and powerful Garbine Muguruza.
Venus Williams (L) and Garbine Muguruza react after winning their respective semi-final matches during Wimbledon 2017 (Reuters)
Venus Williams will try to become the oldest woman to win Wimbledon for 109 years on Saturday although, ominously for her the last time a 37-year-old reached the final, it was a Spaniard who ruined the script. While it was Conchita Martinez who defeated Martina Navratilova in 1994, standing in the way of Williams and a sixth title, an almost unthinkable 17 years after her first, is the tall and powerful Garbine Muguruza.
“I think it’s very impressive. I think not everybody can do that,” the 23-year-old, 14th-seed Muguruza, who shot to fame two years ago when losing to Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final, said on the eve of the match. “For me it’s incredible. I don’t think I could be 37 and playing at that level.”
It is a testament to her durability and strength of character – not to mention a thoroughbred grasscourt game that is surpassed only by her sister who has seven Wimbledon crowns – that Williams still is at a level others can only dream of. There have been times since her last Wimbledon triumph in 2008 against Serena when it seemed the older of the two Williams sisters would hang up her racket.
She has a plethora of off-court interests, including her own fashion label, and has been battling Sjögren’s syndrome, an auto-immune illness diagnosed in 2011 which often leaves her fatigued and suffering with joint pain. Her love for the sport remains as strong as ever, though, and when she steps on Centre Court on Saturday she will do so as the popular favourite, having produced a vintage performance to end the run of British hope Johanna Konta in the semi-final.
Should she prevail on Saturday, she would surpass Serena as the oldest Wimbledon women’s singles champion in the professional era and the oldest since Charlotte Sterry in 1908. While those following her remarkable resurgence – she also reached this year’s Australian Open final, losing to Serena – leaf through the record books picking out the key numbers, Williams, as she so often does, remains in her own serene world.
“I feel very focused still. There’s still a lot to be done. I have one more match that I’d like to be the winner of. I have to go out there and take it,” said Williams, who reached her first major final 20 years ago in New York. “But I like to take courage in the fact that I’ve been playing well this tournament and this year, and all these moments have led to this.”
By a twist of fate Martinez will be in Muguruza’s corner on Saturday, as she has been for the past fortnight in the absence of her regular coach Sam Sumyk, whose wife is expecting a baby. Martinez remains the only Spanish woman to win Wimbledon. But Muguruza, like Williams, has dropped only one set to reach the final and on Thursday produced a superb display of controlled aggression to thrash Magdalena Rybarikova 6-1 6-1.
She also has the belief of knowing she can beat a Williams in a grand slam final – having overpowered Serena to win the French Open last year. Since then, her form has been patchy. “I definitely want to be the one who takes the big one,” Muguruza said.
With both players boasting similar weapons – big serves and clubbing forehands, the outcome could depend on who shakes off the inevitable final nerves more quickly. Of the 42 grand slam matches in which Muguruza has won the first set she has lost only two, while Williams has won 232 of the 250 in which she has taken the opener.