Why It's Too Soon To Give The Wimbledon Trophy To Serena Williams
LONDON -- There were moments during Serena Williams' pasting of Maria Sharapova in the Wimbledon semifinals Thursday, like the time early in the second set when Sharapova actually took a 15-30 lead on Williams' serve, that the greatest player in the game seemed to lose patience.
Maybe the match was taking too long at an hour and change. Or maybe in her effort to get things over with even quicker, she was annoyed with herself after going for a forehand winner that really wasn't necessary.
"Come on," she said in a familiar refrain. "What are you doing?"
It has long been held that Williams' greatest opponent is herself, and she has always done an adequate job of creating her own drama when it appears to be lacking, as it was in her 6-2, 6-4 victory over Sharapova.
But this time, this Saturday, in her eighth Wimbledon final and 25th final of a Grand Slam, she may not have to.
Just when it was looking as if nothing could stop her, here comes Garbine Muguruza -- who defeated Agnieszka Radwanska in the other semi -- appearing in her first Grand Slam final in only her third main draw at Wimbledon.
If the 21-year-old was any more fresh-faced and promising, she'd have her own show on Nickelodeon. In fact, the last time Sharapova defeated Williams, at the 2004 WTA Championships, Muguruza was scarcely a month past her 11th birthday.
But more important, unlike Radwanksa and Sharapova and, well, most of women's tennis, she has a game that can challenge Williams -- big, strong, moves well, serves well and hits the crud out of the ball -- and she has done it before.
It was Muguruza who shocked Williams in the second round of last year's French Open.
It was Williams' most lopsided loss at a major and she finished with 29 unforced errors and only eight winners, a complete flip of how she looked against Sharapova with 29 winners to 15 errors.
Williams called it "one of those days," and that could have been the case except that it wasn't easy the next time she faced the young Spaniard either, dropping the first set at the Australian Open in January, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Williams said Thursday the French Open loss was "eye-opening" for her.
"Some losses you're angry about, and some losses you learn from," she said. "That loss I think I learned the most from in a long time.
"I got so much better after that loss. I was able to improve a lot. ... It was really an experience that helped me say, 'OK Serena, you want to be the best, you're going to have to do certain things and you're going to have to improve certain things.'"
She didn't say exactly what that was except that she did win the French Open this year.
In Williams, Muguruza goes up against a player who should be even more comfortable on grass than she claims to be, though the five-time Wimbledon champ is obviously no slouch at a career 85-12 on grass.
Muguruza is a mere 12-7 on grass, her last big impression on the surface at a 2013 tournament in the Netherlands that looks like a typo -- 'S-Hertogenbosch -- in which she made it to the semifinals before losing to Kirsten Flipkens. But Muguruza, still a teenager at the time, said she has improved since then.
"I'm more a player, a tennis player ..." she said. "I grow so much mentally. I'm tougher now. Technically I also improve a lot. I'm stronger now. In two years, you have a lot of time to improve a lot of things."
At 21, she can still be inconsistent. After that fourth-round loss at the Australian Open to Williams, she made it to the semis in Dubai before losing out in the first round at Doha and suffering losses in her second match at the next five tournaments.
But three of those losses came to top-20 players. And in Dubai, she defeated Jelena Jankovic, Radwanska and Carla Suarez Navarro in consecutive matches.
Muguruza snapped the win-one-lose-one trend with a run to the French Open quarters with victories over Angelique Kerber and Flavia Pennetta before bowing to Lucie Safarova.
"I don't think she's intimidated at all," Williams said when asked what Muguruza might be going through in her first time on a big stage. "She's not that kind of person. So she'll be fine."
Williams wasn't even going to go with the old "she-has-nothing-to-lose" standby when it was floated.
"She has Wimbledon to lose," she said, perhaps as a reminder to the newcomer. "I think we both have Wimbledon to lose, so I think that's something to lose. And, yeah, she's beaten me before, so she knows how to win. She knows what to do."
Since losing to Williams, 6-2, 6-0 at the 2013 Australian Open in their only other meeting, Muguruza has gone from No. 112 in the rankings to No. 9 with her Wimbledon final appearance. Should she knock off Williams, she would climb to No. 6.
While paying necessary homage to the 20-time Grand Slam champion who will be going for her fourth straight Slam (that's 28 straight match victories), and calling her own finals berth here "a present," the youngster revealed why she is so good, so young.
"Well, I think you have to be calm all the time," she said, "because the other one is playing against you, so she's looking at you, seeing how you feel, trying to see your weakness ...
"[It's] especially because [this] is my first time here. I don't have a lot of experience playing these kind of matches. So I just say to myself, 'Be calm. This is what's going to make you. Be good on the court. Don't be afraid.' "
So this Saturday's matchup may actually be entertaining, after all.
Williams said winning close matches over the last several months, particularly the four French Open wins in which she dropped the first set, got her attention. Toughened her up even more.
"It has made me know that I can come back from pretty much anything," she said. "Or at least I know that I can really try and give 100 percent.
"Of course, I would love to win easy matches. Those are always the best wins. They definitely don't shorten your life, you know. But you got to take what you can get."
Though she refuses to utter the "G word" or the "S word," she once again insisted she doesn't feel the pressure of the calendar-year feat.
"I've been in this stage," she said. "I've won so many Grand Slam titles. And I'm at a position where I don't need to win another Wimbledon. I could lose [Saturday]. Sure, I won't be happy. But I don't need another Wimbledon title. I don't need another US Open. I don't need any titles to make it.
"Every time I step out on court, the practice court, the match court, I do look at it as a more fun time because it's not as stressful as it was. Getting to 18 was super stressful for me. ... After that, I've just been really enjoying myself."
She will enjoy it that much more if the "G word" and the "S word" are still in play.
At the net after the French Open loss last year, Williams told Muguruza that she could win the tournament.
"I will try. I will try," she responded.
She ended up advancing as far as the quarterfinals before losing a three-setter to Sharapova.
As for Williams, she ended up on Twitter, where she wrote:
Congrats 2 my opponent today. She did her thing. I'm proud of her. I wish her well. Until next time. There's always [tomorrow] & I will be ready.