2015 Season Review: Garbiñe Muguruza
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2015 was a big year for Garbiñe Muguruza, filled with some incredible highs, and disappointing lows. The Spanish number one began her fifth year as a professional on the WTA Tour with an eagerness to compete, after a breakthrough 2014 season where she earned wins over the likes of Serena Williams and Simona Halep. This season, Muguruza's two best performances of the season came at Beijing and Wimbledon, where she won the China Open title, a little over three months since she made her maiden Grand Slam singles final at SW19. Despite her success, the Venezuelan-born Spaniard had her fair share of lows where at times, she was unable to win three matches in a row. However, she played extremely well at the biggest tournaments of the year, which ultimately catapulted her to a career-high and year-end ranking of number three in the world.

Muguruza’s Great Start to the Year

Garbiñe Muguruza began her 2015 season down under at the Apia International in Sydney, Australia, where she defeated two top 15 opponents in Sara Errani and Agnieszka Radwanska, and nearly defeated then-world number nine Angelique Kerber in a late-night quarter final thriller.

The following week, Muguruza travelled a couple hundred miles to Melbourne, to play the Grand Slam of Asia Pacific — the Australian Open. At the first Grand Slam of the year, the Spaniard had some rough patches, but showed great maturity in the face of adversity. In her first three matches at Melbourne Park, Muguruza managed to regroup from a brief mental lapse to defeat all three of her opponents 6-0 in the final set of each match. As a result, the then-world number 24 advanced to the second week of the Australian Open, for the second year in succession. In her first match of the second week, Muguruza faced world number one Serena Williams — whom she had beaten at the French Open in 2014. The Venezuelan-born Spaniard hit the ground running by taking the opening set 6-2, leaving Williams looking for answers. However, the world number one fought back to win the match 2-6, 6-3, 6-2. In the end, the American’s great balance of power and finesse was too much for Muguruza to handle.

A couple of weeks later, the then-Spanish number two attempted to lead Spain to a victory over Romania in Fed Cup play. Muguruza played three of the five rubbers in that tie, where she won both singles rubbers but lost in the all-important doubles rubber that decided the tie. Despite losing the tie, Muguruza got two good wins over quality opponents in world number 34 Irina-Camelia Begu and world number three Simona Halep.

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A week later, Muguruza travelled to the Middle East to play the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where she defeated the likes of Jelena Jankovic, Agnieszka Radwanska, and doubles partner Carla Suarez Navarro, before losing in an epic and high quality semi final to fellow WTA rising star, Karolina Pliskova.

Muguruza’s Inconsistent Stretch

That impressive performance in Dubai seemed to take a lot out of Muguruza. Just a few days after her semi final match in Dubai, the Spaniard had to travel to Doha overnight where she would have to face her good friend Carla Suarez Navarro again. In that encounter, Muguruza was noticeably struggling and was forced to retire while leading 6-5 in the opening set.

Unfortunately for her, this was the beginning of an inconsistent stretch that lasted from early March to late May. Her next five tournaments at Doha all had the same pattern — win your first match, lose your second. The puzzling thing was, Muguruza wasn’t even playing that badly. She was very dominant in most of her first round matches, but she was unable to carry that form into her second rounds. All of the Spaniard’s losses from early March to late May were all very close matches, that could have gone either way. The only problem for Muguruza during this stretch was her inconsistency. For someone who hits so flat and hard, there will inevitably be times where she can’t find her rhythm. Unfortunately for her, these streaky patches usually came at the worst possible moments. As a result, a couple of loose unforced errors costed the Spaniard a lot of matches she should have won, more or less.

Muguruza’s Rebound at Roland Garros

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Coming into this year’s Roland Garros, Garbiñe Muguruza wasn’t high on confidence, but her ability to thrive at the biggest events of the tennis season still made her one of the favourites to reach the second week. Muguruza got off on the right track to reach her maiden Grand Slam semifinal, winning her first two matches in straight sets against dangerous opponents in Petra Martic and Camila Giorgi. In the third round, Muguruza faced Angelique Kerber, whom she had never beaten coming into this encounter. However, the then-Spanish number two rebounded after losing the opening set and turned the tables on the German, winning 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. That win was a confidence booster for Muguruza in so many ways, and that was the boost she needed after the tough couple of months that preceded the French Open. In the fourth round, the 21-year-old faced 33-year-old Flavia Pennetta in a match that was postponed overnight due to inclement weather. When the match did get underway, it was a case of youth powering past experience. Muguruza played lights out tennis throughout the entire match, and was rewarded with a comprehensive 6-3, 6-4 win. With this victory, the WTA rising star advanced to the quarter finals of the French Open for the second successive year. Despite her great run, Muguruza was unable to fight off the eventual runner-up Lucie Safarova, losing 7-6(3), 6-3 in a great battle of power against spin.

Muguruza’s Struggles on Grass Before Wimbledon

After impressive quarter final showing on the clay of Paris, the Spaniard was looking to carry her great form onto the grass of the United Kingdom, a surface she had always struggled on because of its quick speed and low bounces. Unfortunately for Muguruza, her struggles on the green turf continued leading up to the 2015 Wimbledon Championships. After winning just one of three competitive matches on the grass, things were not looking particularly bright for the 21-year-old.

Muguruza’s Magical Run to the Wimbledon Final

Seeded 23rd, Muguruza began her Wimbledon campaign with two wins over unseeded, but dangerous opponents Varvara Lepchenko and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. From there, she would go on to face four consecutive top 15 players en route to her maiden Grand Slam final. In the third round, Muguruza faced Angelique Kerber in another hard-fought, three set battle. In the end, it was a repeat of their meeting less than a month prior, with the Spaniard coming out on top to make the second week of Wimbledon. Two days later, Muguruza upset fifth seed Caroline Wozniacki by playing ruthless and lights out tennis, leaving Wozniacki at a loss for answers. Once she secured a 6-4, 6-4 win over the fifth seed with a big serve out wide, the 20th seed fell to the ground and rolled onto her back in triumph.

Muguruza didn’t have much time to celebrate her victory though — she had to play the intelligent and crafty Timea Bacsinszky in the quarter finals. In her press conference after her win over Wozniacki, Muguruza said she was well aware of the challenges that Bacsinszky presented, and was ready to fight for a place in the last four. In this encounter, both players traded breaks in the opening set before the Spaniard broke in the 12th game to go within a spot in the last four. The second set was a similar affair and once again, Muguruza got the all-important break that would eventually win her the set — and match. With a 7-5, 6-3 win, the 21-year-old was through to her maiden Grand Slam semi final.

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In the semi final, the 20th seed met 13th seed Agnieszka Radwanska. In what was arguably the biggest match of her career to date, Muguruza hit the ground running. For the first half of the match, the débutante was outclassing her much experienced, and higher ranked opponent. In less than an hour, Muguruza found herself up 6-2, 3-1 and three games away from one the biggest wins of her career. However, Radwanska had other ideas. In a combination of stellar, tactical play from the Pole, and a couple of nerves from the Spaniard, Radwanska won five games in a row to take the second set 6-3. Despite having the match seemingly slip from her grasp, Muguruza regained her composure, breaking in the 8th game of the final set. In the end, that break was enough to get her the win as she served out the match to perfection, completing a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 win to advance to the Wimbledon final. As she fell to her knees in front of a packed a Centre Court at SW19, Muguruza had done the unthinkable. For someone who never achieved great results on grass, this was — without a doubt — one of the biggest surprises of the season.

Unfortunately, she wouldn’t have time to enjoy one of the biggest wins of her career as she was back on Centre Court two days later to play the Wimbledon final against none other than world number one, Serena Williams. After being surrounded by media attention for the last 48 hours, everyone was eager to see how the WTA Rising Star would cope with the pressures and unpredictabilities of a Wimbledon final. However, nothing seemed to be troubling Muguruza as she picked up right where she left off against Radwanska, going up an early break against a nervous-looking Williams. But in the end, the world number one showed the tennis world why she is still the player to beat at 33 years of age, as she clawed her way back to take the opening set 6-4.

That turnaround seemed to stun Muguruza as she was unable to recover until late in the second set. Almost immediately after winning the opening set, Williams began to overpower her younger and less experienced counterpart, racing out to a 5-1 lead. Muguruza, who had worked so hard to get to this stage of the tournament, began to swing more freely, much like she did in the opening set, and it paid off. Suddenly, she remembered that she had nothing to lose and was swinging for the lines, making Williams run from corner to corner. Much to the surprise of a very supportive British crowd, Muguruza recovered both breaks and all of a sudden, she was back in this match. Trailing 4-5, the 20th seed had a chance to level the second set at five-games-all. Despite the Spaniard’s best efforts, the result was somewhat inevitable as Williams showed her class and poise to recover from a minor let-down to win the match 6-4, 6-4, claiming her 21st career Grand Slam singles title.

Despite her loss, Muguruza made a big and bold statement to the tennis world. Unlike other Spanish players, this Spanish tennis star hits with more power than spin and that is one of the reasons why she was so successful on grass. Her shots penetrated through the court at a much higher velocity, which rushed the majority of her opponents. As she walked away from the grass courts of SW19, the WTA rising star was hoping that this Grand Slam final was just a sign of many things to come.

Muguruza’s Post-Wimbledon Struggles with Expectation

After her historic run to the Wimbledon final, Muguruza began to feel the weight of expectations placed on her young shoulders by the media, everyone around her, as well as herself. At the age of 21, she had already accomplished so much in so little time and with that success, a lot was expected of her. She was expected to make the latter stages of all the tournaments she played and in order to do that, she was expected to beat higher ranked players. Since she is quite a private person, Muguruza found it hard to cope with the consistent pressure on her to succeed. The biggest indicator of her struggles came through her tennis, and the way she played.

The Spaniard was unable to recapture her stunning Wimbledon form when transitioning from the grass of the All England Club to the hard courts of North America. She was very tight and erratic when playing against players she would normally beat. At the end of the American hard court swing, Muguruza had won just one of the four matches she had played, with all three of her losses coming to qualifiers in Toronto, Cincinnati and the U.S. Open, respectively. The 21-year-old’s form had dropped significantly because of her professional relationships, which eventually led her to the difficult decision of ending her longtime partnership with coach Alejo Mancisidor. The two have known each other since Muguruza was seven, so this was a big split for both of them professionally.

Muguruza Recaptures Wimbledon Form in Asia

After taking a three week break from competition, Muguruza returned to action in the Japansse capital of Tokyo, with a new coach in Sam Sumyk. The pair had been training on a trial basis in Barcelona, and would work together throughout the Asian swing before moving forward with their professional relationship. After getting a bye in the first round, Muguruza began her bid for a second WTA singles title against Barbora Strycova, whom she dispatched 6-3, 6-4 in a thoroughly entertaining encounter. That win set up an intriguing clash between Muguruza and fellow WTA Rising Star Belinda Bencic. The pair have been undoubtedly the two standout rising stars of the 2014 and 2015 calendar season, with both women securing one incredible win against the current world number one — Serena Williams. Funnily enough, Muguruza and Bencic had never met prior to their meeting in Tokyo and it was an extremely tight affair with both players matching each other shot-for-shot from the baseline. But in the end, Bencic’s acute tactical awareness and ruthless consistency was ultimately too much for Muguruza to handle; the Swiss number one weathering the storm to clinch a hard-fought 7-6(1), 6-1 victory.

A few days later, Muguruza travelled to Wuhan, where she would play the second edition of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open. Since she still had a chance to qualify for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, the 21-year-old knew her performances in Wuhan and Beijing would ultimately decide whether or not she secures a place in the prestigious year-end championships.

After getting another bye in the opening round, Muguruza faced fellow WTA Rising Star Sloane Stephens, whom she completely dominated en route to a 6-2, 6-0 win in less than an hour. In the following round, the eighth seed faced ninth seed Ana Ivanovic for the very first time. After losing the opening set 6-4, the Wimbledon finalist showed glimpses of why she made her maiden Grand Slam final this past July, winning twelve of the next thirteen games to clinch an impressive 4-6, 6-1, 6-0 win over Ivanovic. Now into her first quarter final since playing on the grass of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, the Spaniard looked at ease as she powered past Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 6-2, 6-2, without a major hitch.

With that victory, Muguruza advanced to the semi finals where she would play Angelique Kerber for the fourth time this season. Ever since Kerber overcame a bagel to win their first meeting in Sydney this past January, Muguruza has won their last two meetings, which have both come in the slams. It looked like history would repeat itself early on as the 21-year-old powered her way to a one-set advantage, taking the opening set 6-4. In the second set, there were an exchange of breaks and Muguruza served for the match twice but she just couldn’t get over the line. As a result, the second set had to be decided in a tiebreak. Midway through the tiebreak, Muguruza called for the trainer to get her ankle re-taped after suffering a minor sprain a game or two prior. However as the tiebreak wore on, it was clear that the injury to her ankle was nothing minor, it was serious. She struggled to walk at some points in the match but she used her powerful ground strokes to overpower Kerber, who might have been a little thrown off by Muguruza’s abrupt medical timeout. After booking her place in the showpiece with a 6-4, 7-6(5) win over Kerber, the Spaniard fell to her knees but never let out any real emotion. Her biggest concern was surrounding her ankle, and whether or not she would be ready to play Venus Williams, someone she had never beaten before.

Less than 18 hours after the conclusion of her semi final match, Muguruza was back on court to play just the third WTA final of her career. Judging by the opening exchanges, the ankle didn’t seem to be bothering the Spanish number one but as the match progressed, it became clear that she lacked some stability on that ankle when transferring her weight through each of her shots, and her movement became a big vulnerability. Williams on the other hand, took full advantage of her opponent’s misfortunes and was firing on all cylinders. After getting broken once more to go down a set and 3-0, Muguruza decided to call it a day in Wuhan, as her ankle injury was too much for her to bare. “Well, this is a sad day today," said Muguruza. “I'm very sorry I had to retire today, but I had a really amazing week here in Wuhan. I felt so much support from the crowd, it was great.”

Most would say that this retirement was a precautionary measure that the 21-year-old needed to take in order to not injure herself any further, which is fair considering she was only a couple hundred points away from qualifying for the WTA Finals.

A day later, Muguruza travelled a couple hundred miles to the Chinese capital of Beijing. In order to qualify for the prestigious year-end tournament in Singapore, the Spanish number one would have to make it past the third round to qualify. After getting a bye, Muguruza easily dispatched American Irina Falconi 6-2, 6-1 in her first match of the week. Now just one win away from qualifying for the WTA Finals, Muguruza had the chance to book her place in Singapore on her 22nd birthday. In order to do that, she would have to overcome veteran Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. In the opening set, nothing seemed to be working for the birthday girl, and as she grew increasingly frustrated, her racquet took the blame.

After losing the opening set 6-1, Muguruza went back to the basics and began hitting with more margin on her shots. She constructed the points beautifully and successfully won the next two sets at the loss of just three games. As a result, the Spaniard defeated Lucic-Baroni 1-6, 6-1, 6-2 to book her place in Singapore on her 22nd birthday.

“I was so concentrated during the match — I really had all types of emotions. I wanted to win bad and it was tough,” Muguruza said moments after qualifying for the prestigious year-end championships. “I'm really happy. Was a great gift today!”

From that point on, Muguruza began to play with more confidence and since the pressure of qualifying was behind her, she began to play the tennis that we saw at this year’s Wimbledon Championships. In the following round, the WTA Rising Star met surprise quarter finalist Bethanie Mattek-Sands, whom she was able to overcome en route to a tight 6-1, 7-5 win.

That win setup a semi final clash between Muguruza and Agnieszka Radwanska, a re-match of the Wimbledon semi final from earlier thisseason. In that match, the Pole rallied from a break down go take the opening set 6-4, before the 22-year-old responded in emphatic fashion by winning the second set 6-3. In the dramatic final set, Muguruza raced out to a 5-1 lead but Radwanska recovered both breaks and was on course to levelling the final set, when trailing 4-5 — on serve. Muguruza could barely run but remarkably, she was able to benefit from a couple of rare unforced errors from Radwanska to break in the following game, completing an impressive 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. As a result of her win over the world number six, the Spanish number one was through to her second singles final in consecutive weeks.

In the showpiece, Muguruza faced Timea Bacsinszky. In a very up-and-down match with a lot of breaks, it was the 22-year-old who was able to hold her serve when it really mattered. Despite not feeling 100%, the Venezuelan-born Spaniard had just secured the biggest title of her career thus far. “For me, to be able to come and win the tournament after losing in the finals of Wuhan last week is a great achievement,” Muguruza said in her post-match press conference. “It's amazing, and I can't wait to come back and defend my title next year.”

Muguruza’s Winning Debut in Singapore

After winning in Beijing, the Spaniard withdrew from the Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open, citing an ankle injury, in order to prepare for Singapore. A week later, Muguruza arrived in the Dragon City and was ready to do battle on the indoor courts of Singapore Indoor Stadium.

In her debut at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, the second seed met Lucie Safarova — whom she was defeated by in the quarter finals of the French earlier this year. Muguruza came out all guns blazing, looking like a completely different player after her triumph in Beijing just two weeks prior. Safarova did her best to hang tough as she attempted to counter Muguruza’s powerful strokes time and time again. But in the end, it was the Spaniard who was able to take her chances when they presented themselves, which ultimately resulted in a 6-3, 7-6(4) victory.

Two days later, the Wimbledon finalist met Angelique Kerber for the fifth time in 2015. After losing her first three matches against the German, Muguruza has turned around the head-to-head remarkably. When the pair clashed again in Singapore, the head-to-head was tied at three-wins-apiece, with the Spaniard winning meetings at the French Open, Wimbledon and Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open. In this encounter, it looked like history would repeat itself as Muguruza was overpowering Kerber from the back of the court in the early exchanges. However, the German managed to fight her way back into the match, only to buckle in both sets when it really mattered. The Spanish number one looked cool, calm and collected when playing the big points, and that was the difference in a match that could have gone either way. With a 6-4, 6-4 win, Muguruza was putting herself in a prime position to qualify for the semi finals.

In her final round robin match of the tournament, Muguruza faced Petra Kvitova in one of the most anticipated encounters of the fortnight. Despite never playing each other in an official match, the pair have practiced many times before, and are not afraid to go for their shots. Judging by the early exchanges, this was going to be a hard-hitting match — literally! After the second seed took the opening set 6-4, Kvitova took the second by the exact same score line to force a decider. In the final set, Muguruza came back from a break down twice before grabbing a decisive break at 5-5. After two hours and 33 minutes, it was the world number three who was able to close out the match on her fourth match point. As a result, she would advance to the semi finals while staying at the top of the White Group, going 3-0 against all three lefties in the top eight.

In the last four, Muguruza faced old foe Agnieszka Radwanska, in a rematch of their semi final matches at Wimbledon and Beijing. After the Venezuelan-born Spaniard won the opening set 7-6(5) by the skin of her teeth, the Pole responded by winning the second set 6-3, breaking three times in the process. In order to keep their seasons alive, both women were giving everything they got, in an attempt to outdo the other for a place in the final. After trading early breaks, both women held their service games relatively comfortably until Muguruza was serving to stay in the match, trailing 5-6. The second seed made two costly unforced errors starting at 15-15, which gave the Pole two match points. Not with her back against the wall, the Wimbledon finalist was in desperate need of two big first serves. On the first match point, Muguruza hit a big first serve and eventually forced an error out of Radwanska. But on the second match point, she wasn’t as lucky. As Muguruza dumped her backhand down the line into the net, Radwanska raised her arms with a clenched fist, as a result of a hard-fought 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-5 win for the Polish number one. Less than 24 hours later, she would go on to win her maiden WTA Finals crown, defeating Petra Kvitova in the final.

Closing Thoughts

As for Muguruza, there might have been some disappointment surrounding her semi final loss, but she can only take positives out of a great match, tournament and year. Despite some up-and-downs in terms of emotions and results, the 22-year-old has had more highs than lows; she made her maiden Grand Slam final at the All England Club, she qualified for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, and ends the year at number three in the world. Under the tutelage of Sam Sumyk, Muguruza was able to find her form and win the biggest title of her career thus far. Many are questioning whether or not the WTA rising star will be able to back up the success in 2016 but if she does, she could have a Grand Slam to her credit this time next year.

Grade: A