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2016 Season Review: Muguruza's Maiden Major

Garbiñe Muguruza crested to her first Grand Slam crown at Roland Garros; who else dug into a deep field headlining 2016's clay court season?

Published November 16, 2016 12:15

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Garbiñe Muguruza rolled through a thrilling fortnight at Roland Garros to capture her first Grand Slam title; the Spaniard's success came at the height of a compelling clay-court season that started in Stuttgart for the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.

Kerber's Homecoming

Angelique Kerber's first tournament in Germany after winning the Australian Open came in Stuttgart. Disappointing results in the Middle East and Indian Wells were mitigated by a pair of semifinal runs in Miami and the Charleston at the Volvo Car Open - the latter on green clay.

A champion in Stuttgart in 2015, Kerber had never before defended a title; down a set to countrywoman Annika Beck in the opening round, it appeared as though that trend would continue. But the newly crowned major champion soldiered through that match in three sets, and was equally gritty against Petra Kvitova in the semifinals before treating the home crowd to the first all-German final in the tournament's history against Laura Siegemund.

"It was not easy to find the middle ground, how to mix all the media stress while playing good tennis," she told WTA Insider. "Now I'm getting used to it. Of course defending my title here is just an amazing feeling. It's really special because it's in Germany and here in Stuttgart.

"Now I know how to deal with all the pressure and it makes me much more confident than I was a few weeks ago."

Halep Goes Full Circle In Madrid

Simona Halep has long credited the wildcard Mutua Madrid Open owner Ion Tiriac gave her with turning around her tennis career in 2013. In a tournament that boasted four Romanian women in the quarterfinals, Halep rose above the rest to take home her second career Premier Mandatory title two years after first reaching the final in 2014.

"I felt that I had everything in my hands, every match," she told WTA Insider. "I felt that I played my best tennis in every match and kind of deserving the title because I won it. I didn't receive presents during the matches. Day by day I believed more that I had a chance to win it.

Seeded No.6, Halep didn't consider herself a favorite to start, yet dropped just one set all week and earned impressive wins over talented clay-courters like Timea Bacsinszky, Samantha Stosur, and Dominika Cibulkova, who earned the first of four 2016 wins over Agnieszka Radwanska in the first round.

"I played for the trophy. I had emotions before but I knew how to manage them."

WTA Clay

Serena Surges In Rome

Then-World No.1 Serena Williams was playing her first clay-court matches of 2016, but the three-time French Open champion was an old pro at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, romping to her first title of the season without dropping a set. Avenging a Miami Open loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals, Serena survived a tense two-setter against surprise finalist Madison Keys to take home her 70th title at the Foro Italico.

"I wasn't sure if I could win this tournament because I was dealing with a lot of things," she said in the Roman edition of Champions Corner. "Physically coming in here I wasn't feeling my best and then I was like ok, will I be able to play long matches? And I was and it worked out. So I'm feeling really good."

The win gave Serena an unbeaten clay-court record through the French Open final, where she ran into...

French open

Muguruza Marvels In Paris

Few pegged Garbiñe Muguruza as a favorite to win Roland Garros. The Spaniard had reached the final four in Rome, but had earned up-and-down results throughout the season, and was a set from elimination in the first round against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

Muguruza recovered there and didn't drop a set through her last six matches in Paris, dismantling 2010 finalist Samantha Stosur in the semifinals and earned a decisive win over Serena in the championship match. The win came two years after her initial breakthrough in Paris, when she shocked Serena in the second round in 2014.

"The previous years here I felt good in French Open playing," she said after the final. "I reached two quarterfinals, so I was there. But, I mean, to start [my] clay [career] with this title, for sure it's impossible to be better."

The win made her the first Spaniard to take home a Grand Slam title since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario's 1998 French Open run; up to a career-high ranking of No.2, she also became the highest-ranked Spaniard since Sanchez-Vicario.

Elsewhere...

Laura Siegemund's run to the Stuttgart final helped her eventually clinch a berth on the German Olympic team; the veteran qualified for the main draw and knocked out the likes of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Simona Halep, Roberta Vinci, and Agnieszka Radwanska to reach her first WTA final. Kiki Beterns stunned Kerber in the first round of the French Open en route to her first Grand Slam semifinal, shocking 2015 semifinalist Timea Bacsinszky en route to the final four.

In doubles, Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic caught fire and became the team to beat in the clay-court season, winning titles in Charleston, Stuttgart, and Madrid - all leading up to their maiden major victory in Paris, where they outlasted former champions and recently-reunited Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina in three sets.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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