Garbine Muguruza has only ever faced a Williams sister in a Grand Slam final.
Incredibly, she’s won the majority of those matches.
The Spaniard, 13 months on from defeating Serena in the Roland Garros final, beat Venus in Saturday’s Wimbledon decider.
From 5-4 down and after saving two set points, Muguruza didn’t drop another game.
Now a two-time major champion, Muguruza becomes the only player in history to have beaten both Venus and Serena in a major final. She lost to Serena in her first and only other major final, at Wimbledon two years ago.
There’s perhaps no greater test than beating one of the illustrious sisters in a major final. Venus, after all, hadn’t lost to a player not named Serena in such a match since falling to Martina Hingis in the 1997 US Open final.
But Muguruza passed that test with flying colours, confirming what has become apparent in the last few seasons – she’s one of the sport’s best big-match players.
“I think once I go to the big court, I feel good. I feel like that’s where I want to be, that’s what I practice for. That’s where I play good. This is what I would like to,” Muguruza said after sealing a 7-5 6-0 win over Williams.
“I’m happy to go to the Centre Court and to play the best player. That’s what motivates me.”
Muguruza played with a confidence that’s slowly but surely been returning the past few weeks.
Since triumphing in Paris last years, she’d been saddled with the burden of playing tennis as a reigning major champion. She failed to win a title in the subsequent 12 months; her French Open title defence ended in the fourth round.
But she’d shown signs of a return to form in Rome just a few weeks earlier, beating Venus en route to the semifinals. Her Roland Garros campaign may have ended earlier than she’d hoped, but the level of tennis she’d produced in Paris was impressive.
Then there was a trip to the Birmingham semifinals; coming into Saturday’s Wimbledon final Muguruza had won 15 of her last 19 matches.
The one anomaly was Eastbourne; in her final grasscourt match before Wimbledon she suffered an horrendous 6-1 6-0 loss to Barbora Strycova.
“Eastbourne was such a short tournament, I didn’t play well there,” she smiled. “But I did the week before, so that helped me.
“I always come very motivated to the Grand Slams. I don’t know. Since I lost the final here, I wanted to change that. I came thinking, I’m prepared, I feel good. During the tournament and the matches, I was feeling better and better. Every match, I was increasing my level.”
Muguruza’s level went up at precisely the moment it needed to when she was challenged in the first set.
With Venus striking impressively from the back of the court and her own forehand failing her, Muguruza somehow found range and confidence on that stroke and outlasted Williams in a magnificent 19-stroke rally to save a set point – the first of two – when trailing 4-5.
When she eventually held for 5-5, the complexion of the match had changed, and Muguruza grew stronger the further out in front she got.
“I just keep fighting. And I knew that if I was playing like I was playing during the two weeks, I was going to have eventually an opportunity,” she explained.
“So I was, like, calm. If I lose the first set, I still have two more. Let’s not make a drama.”
They were the words of a confident player and person.
Now comes the next test; retaining that confidence as a reigning major champion once more.
Muguruza said she felt better equipped to deal with such a mantle.
“It’s not easy. It’s very good when you win it, and it’s hard after when you come back and you know you have to defend it. But that’s a good problem to have,” she said.
“I’m happy to be in this situation. I’m happy that once again I see myself winning a Grand Slam, something that is so hard to do. It means a lot. It means a lot of confidence.”
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