Grand Slams are known to be the biggest tournaments in the sport of tennis, and the players always give in their all during the fortnights to vie for the Championship. Just because all the players put in all their hard work and dedication during these tournaments, the number of high-quality matches are overwhelming and fans often get to witness the best of tennis during the fortnight. On the women’s side, the best Grand Slam match of the year is arguably the fourth-round match between then-world number one Angelique Kerber and soon-to-be world number one Garbine Muguruza at the Wimbledon Championships.
In the battle between two of the five world number ones in 2017 and reigning Grand Slam champions, the 14th seed Muguruza upset the top-seeded Kerber, who was slowly regaining her form after a poor first half of the year. In three high-quality sets, the Spaniard produced some scintillating grass-court tennis to get past the inspired German, with this being her toughest win en route to lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish at the end of the week.
Kerber claims the first set at the eleventh hour
The first set was a tight affair with both players looking incredibly solid on their serves throughout the entire session. Unexpectedly, Kerber was able to challenge Muguruza at the baseline, displaying her aggressive self on the court. Her controlled aggression was really impressive, with her serves being just too good for the Spaniard as the 14th seed failed to find a breakthrough on the return. Whereas, Muguruza was firing on all cylinders, and did not give Kerber any loopholes on her serve.
The first break point of the match came in the seventh game, with Kerber coming up with an incredible forehand passing shot winner for a chance to grab the lead. However, Muguruza was simply too clinical at the net, ultimately closing the game out with a bullet-like backhand winner. After surviving a nervy service game which saw Kerber rattle back from 0-30 down, we finally witnessed the first break of the match with Muguruza suffering a slight misfocus and her inconsistencies all popped up, and Kerber benefitted from three consecutive unforced errors to break serve for the first time in the encounter. The German eventually closed out the opening set 6-4 after 43 minutes of play, sealing the set with smash winner, a set which saw her commit just two unforced errors.
Muguruza fights back from the brink
After an exchange of service holds to start the second set, it was Kerber who continued to ride on her momentum and earned yet another break point in the third game. Impressively enough, the German was able to find some answers to Muguruza’s invincible net game, producing two consecutive passing winners before the Spaniard blasted three consecutive winners to save herself from the brink, fending off a break point in the process.
Ironically, it was the defensive-minded Kerber who had a comfortable path in her service games while Muguruza struggled to hold serve. The German was just too good, breaking down the merciless offense of her opponent while also redirecting the pace. However, Muguruza was nerveless and clutch on the crucial points, fending off another break point to narrowly remain ahead on the scoreboard. Unexpectedly, the Spaniard went on to earn her first break point of the match after over an hour of play, but Kerber’s forehands were too solid and the German quickly regained her composure to hold serve, serving an ace on game point.
Kerber soon found herself serving to stay in the set at 4-5 down, and the pressure certainly weighed on her shoulders. The nerves affected her play and she allowed Muguruza to tramp over her with some impressive aggressive play, and the 14th seed eventually came out of nowhere to take the second set 6-4 with a screaming forehand winner.
Kerber fails to convert her chances; Muguruza steals the win
Despite having the momentum running in her, Muguruza made a poor start to the final set as she committed a couple of untimely errors, gifting Kerber with the break in the opening game. Kerber’s serving statistics continued to remain impressive, and she easily consolidated the break for a 2-0 lead. Though, Muguruza did not run out of steam and instead produced a fightback, breaking straight back to level the match at 2-2.
There was a rare exchange of breaks before Muguruza had the golden opportunity to hold serve in the seventh game. However, it was also the perfect chance for Kerber to make the breakthrough as she earned four break points in that same game but was too passive on the crucial points as Muguruza ultimately dug her way out of the marathon 10-minute game, the longest of the match. That game proved to be pivotal in deciding the outcome as Kerber had to serve to stay in the match at 4-5 down. Similar to the second set, the world number one crumbled when facing the pressure, with Kerber committing her first backhand unforced error of the match to gift Muguruza the hard-fought win.
Stats Corner: Muguruza more efficient on the crucial points
Both women put in an excellent performance during this match, with Muguruza standing firm whenever it mattered. Kerber, though, won a decent 67 percent of first serve points throughout the encounter, but fared poorly on her second deliveries, winning just 48 percent of those points. The Spaniard was much more solid on her serves, and was particularly impressive off her second serves, claiming 54 percent of points off those serves (an increase from a season average of 46 percent).
The most notable match statistic is arguably the net points won. Muguruza’s tactics were clearly reflected when she made 54 approaches towards the net, winning 35 of those points. Kerber charged to the net on just seven different occasions, but lost just two points there. The German ended the match with 27 winners and just a mere 12 unforced errors, while Muguruza blasted 55 winners to 50 errors, with her aggressive play proving to be risky against a world-class defender in Kerber.
Reaction from the players
“Yeah, I think we both play a good match. But at the end I think just two points that decides the match. But of course I'm disappointed that I lost the match, because I was really playing good. Yeah, at the end, I mean, just one can win, and that was not me today.” Kerber started her post-match press conference on a positive note, accepting the fact that she played a good match as well. Kerber came into Wimbledon with a 22-13 win-loss record despite being the number one player in the world, having just reached one final along the way.
Her run at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club certainly gave her the confidence, “It was for sure the best match for a long time for me, so that's why I actually said that I lost the match. But I think I'm still on a good way. When I came here, I was telling myself, I was practicing good after Paris. For me, I'm still looking for the next months, next weeks. I think I'm again on a good way to playing again tennis, yeah, on a high level.”
After claiming a win over the reigning number one, Muguruza was definitely delighted with her performance. “I think was a good match. I know I won it, but I think was a good match for both of us. You know, we battle out there. Every point we give our best. Every match that I play against Kerber is like that. I remember two years ago when we played here, was a quite similar match."
"Happy that it went my way, of course, after fighting there for two hours.” The key to her victory was arguably her ability to hold serve in the seventh game of the final set, where she fended off four break points in that game. “Yeah, that definitely was an important game. The serve in grass is, you know, good to hold it because is a very fast surface. If you serve well, it's very easy to keep it.”
Aftermath: Match outcome proves to be pivotal for both players
Who knows what would have happened if Kerber held onto her lead in the final set? Well, this victory was extremely important and acted as a confidence-booster for Muguruza, who went on to claim her second Major trophy at the end of the fortnight.
The loss caused the German to fall from the top spot as she failed to defend her finalist points from the previous year, and her struggles continued as the two-time Grand Slam champion was unable to rekindle the form which she displayed throughout the week in London. Whereas, Muguruza re-entered the top-10 with the title before climbing to the summit of the rankings for the first time in her career at the US Open.
After ending 2016 as the top-ranked player, Kerber’s poor form this year caused her to drop out of the top-20 eventually while Muguruza finished 2017 as the world number two, lagging just 40 points behind the top spot.