Eleven years ago, Rafael Nadal won the French Open for the first time as a 19-year old. He went on to win at the Roland Garros 9 more times until 2014. Though, Roger Federer became an exception in 2009, the famed Spaniard ruled on the red-clay courts of Roland Garros in Paris for an incredibly long time. The scenario changed in 2015 with Stan Wawrinka becoming a non-Spanish champion. The men’s champion on Sunday will not be from Spain either, but another Spaniard powered her way to becoming the new women’s champion of French Open on Saturday. Garbine Muguruza disappointed the great Serena Williams, who was widely expected to record her 22nd Grand Slam win. That didn’t happen as the unflinching and determined Muguruza authored an emphatic victory against the best hitter of tennis balls on WTA circuit. The first words spoken in Spanish by Muguruza to Philippe Chatrier crowd after her victory on Saturday were; “This is a big tournament in Spain and Rafa is our champion.” For the world no.1 Serena Williams, this was the third consecutive Grand Slam, where she had failed to equal Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam victories. Incidentally, Serena’s last win in a Grand Slam tournament came, when she defeated the same Garbine Muguruza at 2015 Wimbledon.
When Serena Williams and Garbine Mugiruza arrived at Court Philippe Chatrier, the American would certainly have recalled the worst loss of her tennis career, handed to her by none other than Muguruza at Roland Garros. It was the second round match in 2014, when Muguruza stunned Serena 6-2, 6-2. But Serena would also have taken heart from seeing off the Spanish girl in the final of 2015 Wimbledon. On her current form, Serena was a heavy favorite and everyone expected her to win. The American had won her first Grand Slam in a battle between two teenagers 17 years ago. Serena herself was 17, when she took on the 18-year old Martina Hingis in the US Open final in 1999. Two years earlier on the same venue, the 16-year old Hingis had beaten Serena’s elder sister Venus 6-0, 6-4 to win the 1997 women’s title but couldn’t win against Serena in 1999. That was the beginning of Serena Williams’ incredible tennis journey. After close to two decades, the American is still the world no.1 and going strong despite injury-driven curtailment of her court movements.
In Saturday’s final, Muguruza won the coin-toss but surprisingly allowed Serena to serve first. When the American held her service in the first game to love, it looked ominous for Muguruza. In the fourth game, Serena blew away a break-chance but Muguruza broke Serena in the fifth game and held her own service for a 4-2 lead. Though the world no.1 broke back in the eighth game, she didn’t look very convincing. After two service holds on either side, Muguruza broke again to take a 6-5 lead with her service to follow. The 22-year old Muguruza went down two break points in the 12th game but fought back to the deuce. Serena did her best to keep herself in the game but Muguruza didn’t err on her third set point to win at 7-5.
Muguruza began the second set by breaking right away but two double faults in her following service game were enough for Serena to bring parity. The third game was also decided on service-break with Serena making avoidable errors. By holding her serve next, Muguruza led 3-1. At 3-5 in the ninth game, the defending champion began serving to stay in the match. But an error from Serena made the score 15-30. It was crunch time for both players. With another Serena backhand striking the net, Muguruza held two championship points at 15-40. Somehow, Serena saved both; first when, Muguruza sent a backhand into the net and second with a scorching service down the middle. But at deuce, Serena yielded a third championship point to the Spaniard. Somehow, Serena managed to stay in the match by holding her serve but Muguruza had already sniffed the sweet smell of victory.
The tenth game began with Muguruza serving for the match at 5-4. She made a perfect start and held three more championship points at 40-0. On the next point Serena went for an attack by playing a deep forehand on the left corner and coming to the net straightaway. Now Muguruza’s only chance was a high lob and she executed that with her backhand. Serena ran back to deal with the high ball and found herself stranded. The American thought it was going to fall out. Time stopped for a while as the ball came back to the earth from skies. It kissed the baseline before spinning away. For a split second, there was only a hushed silence. Then the reality sank. Muguruza had a tense expression on her face that slowly changed, when she heard a roaring applause. She fell on her back cupping her face in her palms. After a few moments, the new French Open Champion rose and strode to the net, where Serena had stood clapping for a while. Graceful in defeat, Serena hugged Muguruza, who had just become the first Spanish woman to win a Grand Slam title since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario won the last of her three French Open crowns in 1998.