Garbiñe Muguruza achieves goal in return to Latin America
Seven years ago, as Garbiñe Muguruza moved up the rankings and into full view, she already knew she had one of the decisions of her life ahead of her. Muguruza had grown up on the courts of Caracas, Venezuela, where she was born to her Venezuelan mother and Basque father, and where she stayed until she was six before moving to Barcelona.
At 21 years old, and with pressure from both sides as her career flourished, she finally decided which country she would represent, a process she described as “really difficult, thoughtful and delicate.” After choosing Spain, however, she made the intensity of her feelings for both countries clear: “I carry Venezuela and Spain in my blood and in my heart,” she said.
As she rose to be world No 1 and won two major titles, her roots were always present. The rare occasions she has been able to compete in any Latin American countries, the support for one of the few Latin American-born women’s players at the top of the game has been relentless. When it was announced this year’s WTA Finals would be contested in Guadalajara, Mexico for one year, Muguruza said she made it her goal to be there. Last Wednesday, she lifted the trophy as the crowds chanted her name into the night.
Her path to victory was a demonstration of the experience she has gained. After losing her opening match 7-6(6) in the third set to Karolina Pliskova and then dropping the first set against Barbora Krejcikova, Muguruza reeled off eight straight sets to win the title.
Against two far less experienced players in the knockout matches, Anett Kontaveit and Paula Badosa, Muguruza played at a furious intensity, forcing them to equal her point-by-point focus in one of the biggest matches of their careers.
Muguruza finally achieved the type of result that, under the calming influence of Conchita Martínez, has been coming. She has rediscovered her suffocating aggression from the baseline, is a more reliable player and is now well-positioned to chase major titles in the new year.
As Steve Simon, the WTA CEO, threatened to reconsider the WTA’s relations with China after being unable to speak with Peng Shuai, this week in Guadalajara was a glimpse into an alternative future. The event would have been held, as usual, in Shenzhen, China, with big money and few fans, if not for the pandemic and China’s continued ban on international sporting events. Instead, despite a more modest total prize money of $5m, the stadium in Guadalajara was often packed, the passionate fans imbuing the matches with tension and meaning.
As Muguruza clinched her title, in Turin the men’s event edged towards the end of its own round robin group stages. After a decade at the O2 Arena, Turin seemed to offer an opportunity for a significant reset and it felt like a missed opportunity as the event opted for an identical colour scheme and lighting to London.
But what it did show was a glimpse into the future. Novak Djokovic was the only man of the top eight older than 25 and most of those younger players towered over him during their promo photoshoot, underlining the direction the men’s tour is heading in on the court. The final pitted Daniil Medvedev against Alexander Zverev, who happen to be the most successful tall players right now. Both stand at 6ft 6in with big first serves, capable returns and, most notably of all, they are two of the best movers on the tour despite their height.
They also happen to be the two standout players who have been able to defeat Djokovic this year and take advantage when he has not been present. This time, it was Zverev who outplayed and outfought Djokovic in their three-set semi-final before responding to his round-robin loss to Medvedev with a convincing 6-4, 6-4 win in the final. He is the first man since Djokovic in 2015 to win multiple ATP Finals titles.
This is Zverev’s best season and since July he has won 31 of his 35 matches, winning Olympic gold, the ATP Finals and titles in Cincinnati and Turin, while matching his career-high ranking of No 3. On indoor hardcourts, particularly the pacier courts of Turin, his combination of enormous serving, athleticism and his far greater confidence in his forehand make him such a difficult opponent.
Yet there remains the ATP’s investigation into allegations of domestic abuse against him by his ex-girlfriend, Olya Sharypova, which they announced at the beginning of October. Zverev denies the allegations, and welcomed the investigation when it was announced. There has been no update from the ATP but Zverev is not short of support within the locker room.
After Zverev’s victory, Djokovic referenced his problems on social media and stressed how much of a “great guy” Zverev is. “Alex Zverev had a tough year on/off the court,” he said. “I know how much tennis helps me to grow and I’m happy that it was Sascha’s winning field this year.”