Muguruza, Mladenovic traversing different paths

Published by Matt Trollope

As Garbine Muguruza (L) improved to 21-4 since the French Open with her second-round win at the US Open, Kristina Mladenovic slumped to her fifth consecutive defeat; Getty Images
Since their charged fourth-round match at Roland Garros, Garbine Muguruza and Kristina Mladenovic have gone in opposite directions, something that was very much apparent on Wednesday at the US Open.

At the time, few knew they were watching a match between players that would prove a metaphoric fulcrum point for their respective seasons.

When Garbine Muguruza and Kristina Mladenovic clashed in a atmospheric, acrimonious match in the round of 16 at Roland Garros, their trajectories couldn’t be more different. Mladenovic was soaring, having already reached four WTA finals in 2017 (winning in St Petersburg) and establishing herself as one of the tour’s form players. Muguruza, who’d won the title in Paris the previous year, was struggling with life as a Grand Slam champion, having made a solitary semifinal in the subsequent 12 months.

The result in Paris went with the form guide; Mladenovic won in three sets, leveraging her home-court advantage and riding a wave of passionate crowd support that had Muguruza seething as she exited the court – and in tears in her post-match press conference.

Mladenovic felt the crowd’s treatment of the defending champion had been just, and denied she’d intentionally revved up fans to “destabilise” Muguruza. The Spaniard, upon returning to her post-match press conference after a brief teary break, was asked about Mladenovic’s idiosyncratic habit of yelling “forza!” after Muguruza’s errors.

“I think she speaks like 25 languages,” Muguruza retorted.

That was in early June. We’re now at the end of August. And what a difference three months makes.

Muguruza is flying high, the reigning Wimbledon champion, a winner in Cincinnati and the world No.3. She’d fallen as low as 16th after failing to defend her points in Paris but is now one of the tour’s hottest players, having won 21 of her past 25 matches since her loss to Mladenovic.

The bitter loss seemed to ignite a fire in her. It hasn’t just been the fact she’s winning matches – it’s the manner in which she’s doing so. She trounced Magdalena Rybarikova in the Wimbledon semifinals for the loss of just two games. She dropped a bagel on Venus Williams in the final. She beat Kayla Day 6-2 6-0 in the first round of Stanford, her first match back after her Wimbledon triumph. She embarrassed world No.2 Simona Halep 6-1 6-0 in the Cincinnati final.

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And in her first two match wins at the US Open this week, she’s notched a 6-0 set in both.

“All I want is to win matches,” said Muguruza after advancing to the third round of the US Open for the first time.

“I think (my confidence) is a high level, of course. I got big wins recently, and a lot of matches in a row that I felt I was playing good and that I won.

“I’m happy that at least I am one more round up, which I still want to go as far as I can.”

For the Frenchwomen, it couldn’t be a more different story.

 

Her 6-3 6-2 loss to unseeded Romanian in the first round at Flushing Meadows on Wednesday was her fifth defeat in a row dating back to Washington DC. All five losses – all to lower-ranked opponents – have come in straight sets.

After defeating Muguruza in Paris, Mladenovic, appearing in the Roland Garros quarterfinals for the first time, fell to Timea Bacsinszky. She was underwhelming throughout the grasscourt season and exited at the second-round stage of Wimbledon, and has since endured a rough US summer hardcourt season.

“There are highs and lows in a season. I had a complicated Wimbledon where I pulled a ligament in my right knee,” Mladenovic told Reuters.

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“I needed a rest after that fall but then it was not easy to come back to form for the American tournaments. It’s frustrating, but it’s part of an athlete’s life … it’s a process.

“Physically, I’m in good shape, but it was not enough. I would have needed a round or two to get things started again.”

Who’d have thought three months ago in Paris we would end up here?

Back then, Mladenovic was riding high, continuing to build confidence and momentum and on the verge of a top-10 ranking. Muguruza appeared lost.

But as Mladenovic packs her bags and possibly casts her mind to a happier place – perhaps that sunny June day on Court Suzanne Lenglen – Muguruza has very much found herself again, and will continue her charge in New York, an ocean and an age away from Paris.

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