Women’s tennis has for the past few years suffered criticism due to a perceived lack of fan engagement and commercial interest.
But try telling that to the people who crammed into Rome’s Campo Centrale to watch the most recent meeting between Garbine Muguruza and Venus Williams.
That was in the quarterfinals of a Premier Mandatory event. This time, they’re going head-to-head on the grandest stage in all of tennis.
An amazing place to experience tennis in. Next up: Paris. pic.twitter.com/vKSeG32n61
— Jimmie48 Photography (@JJlovesTennis) May 20, 2017
A major final is always big. But this Wimbledon final feels especially so, when you consider the two combatants. Both players stand tall, hit big and own Grand Slam trophies. Both bring a presence to the court that few other players can command. And both arrive in the title match with incredible form and momentum after a stellar fortnight at the All England Club.
It’s perhaps fair to say that, save for the five-set epic in which Rafael Nadal went down to Gilles Muller on ‘Manic Monday’, the women’s draw has consistently been the more compelling of the two singles events at SW19 this year. More memorable matches, more dramatic storylines, more excitement; it’s been one of the better women’s tournaments in recent memory.
The Konta v Halep match peaked at 7.15m last night. That's higher than the Murray v Paire match, and higher than Nadal v Muller. #Wimbledon
— Richard Osman (@richardosman) July 12, 2017
And Muguruza and Williams are the two players who rose above all other 126 competitors, many of whom also produced a level of tennis that made them genuine contenders for the title.
They’ll meet on Saturday afternoon. Williams leads the head-to-head 3-1, but lost in three in the aforementioned Rome stoush. They’ve never met on grass.
“I’m feeling pretty good. I think it’s a good moment right now,” Muguruza said on Friday ahead of her third appearance in a Grand Slam final. “It goes very fast. So I’m trying to enjoy. The previous times, you’re so concentrated that you cannot enjoy as well.
“I know tomorrow I’m looking forward a lot to go on the court. Last match here. Try to change things after the last two years.”
Her comment about “changing things” relates to the last time she won through to the Wimbledon final (in 2015) before being beaten in straight sets by Serena Williams. Since then, she won the 2016 Roland Garros title, gaining revenge on Serena in masterful performance on slow, damp clay.
Venus said she would seek out Serena’s advice before taking on the 23-year-old Muguruza, a former world No.2 who has since slipped to 15th. “Serena did play her in a final. I don’t know when that happened. I definitely will ask her,” said Venus in characteristically opaque style.
“I’m sure she’s going to give me hopefully some things that will make a difference for me in the match.”
When it comes to history, form and experience at Wimbledon, Williams has it in spades over the Spaniard.
This is her ninth final, and she’s never lost to anyone in the final not named Serena. In her 20th trip to SW19, Venus’s semifinal victory over Johanna Konta marked her 101st match here – she’s won 87 of those for a success rate of 86 per cent.
Prior to the Konta victory she swatted aside three opponents in straight sets who were all born in 1997 – the year she first competed here. Those youngsters were Naomi Osaka, Ana Konjuh and Jelena Ostapenko, all tipped for future stardom. Ostapenko, Williams’s quarterfinal victim, is the most accomplished having arrived at Wimbledon as the reigning Roland Garros champion.
“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,” Williams said.
“I feel very focused still. There’s still a lot to be done. I have one more match that I’d like to, you know, be the winner of. I have to go out there and take it and play well.”
Unlike the inexperienced opponents Williams has beaten to this point, Muguruza represents an altogether tougher prospect, unlikely to be overawed. It could be argued she’s in even better form than Venus, having crushed a hapless Magdelena Rybarikova for the loss of just two games in the semifinals.
Her straight-sets dissection of seventh seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarters and a gritty three-set win over world No.1 Angelique Kerber – a spectacular duel between the last two Wimbledon finalists – have recalled the form of “Garbi” at her finest, one of the few players with the strength and power to hang with a full-flowing Venus – and perhaps even outmuscle her.
Since the beginning of her week in Rome, Muguruza has won 15 of 19 matches.
“I feel like every time I go to a tournament, I have the weapons to reach the final rounds. Right now I know how to play more on grass,” she declared.
“I think my mind is more equipped this time because the more experience you get, the more you know how to deal with these situations, because they’re very special. If you felt it before, it’s really helpful.
“I think we both have a very aggressive games. I think the serve is going to be very important, because she has a pretty big serve. I try to have a big one, as well.
“Probably being aggressive, serve, all this (is key). Fast points are important.”
We’ll know on Saturday who plays those points the fastest – and the best.
They’ll be crowned the Wimbledon champion.
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