LONDON, Great Britain - It was nearly six weeks ago that an emotional Garbiñe Muguruza sat in the main press room at Roland Garros, reduced to tears after her French Open defense ended with a tough three-set loss to Kristina Mladenovic. It had been a tough 12 months for Muguruza, who struggled to find the consistent level that earned her that first Slam title, where she rolled through a draw losing just one set before ousting then No.1 Serena Williams in the final.
The 23-year-old played with the stress and anxiety of a woman who knew much was now expected of her as the youngest major champion at the time. Her win in Paris and rise to No.2 in the rankings signaled the future of the tour was Spanish, with a game built on clay but honed for hardcourts. But Muguruza could not deliver consistently and the painful losses left her bruised.
So it all finally came crashing down in Paris last month. When asked about the rambunctious partisan crowd, Muguruza's preternatural poise finally gave way. She dropped her head and the tears finally came. The loss meant she was no longer a reigning major champion, nor was she a Top 10 player, her ranking tumbling down to No.15 after failing to make a final for 12 months.
But after leaving the room with the moderator to collect herself, Muguruza returned with dry red eyes and a head held high. When a journalist apologized for having to re-ask his question, Muguruza scooted closer to the microphone.
"No, go for it," Muguruza said. "We're here in the good and the bad, so go for it." And with that, the pity party was over. Muguruza did there what she does on the court, and powered ahead:
Muguruza made the semifinals of the Aegon Classic a few weeks later and rode that confidence into Wimbledon. A finalist in 2015, Muguruza once again found her footing on the turf, blasting through a fortnight that included wins over No.1 Angelique Kerber, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Magdalena Rybarikova, and then No.11 Venus Williams in the final, beating the five-time champion 7-5, 6-0 to win her second major final. Muguruza was built for the stage and there is no stage grander than Centre Court, where she delivered a master-class of the ruthless, powerful tennis that has made her one of the brightest stars of the younger generation.
"I think once I go to the big court, I feel good," Muguruza told reporters after the match on Saturday. "I feel like that's where I want to be, that's what I practice for. That's where I play good, you know. This is what I would like to. I'm happy to go to the Centre Court and to play the best player. That's what motivates me."
Muguruza finished the tournament winning the last eight sets she played and her serve was never broken after the Round of 16. That's not to say she did not wobble. In a tightly contested first set on Saturday, she hit back-to-back bad forehands to give Venus two set points at 4-5, 15-40. Venus wisely kept the ball on the Spaniard's leaking forehand on break point, forcing Muguruza to high eight in a 19-shot rally, the longest of the match. But Muguruza stood tall and refused to relent, and it was Venus' forehand that finally found the net. In the midst of the good and the bad, Muguruza powered through.
After saving set points to hold, Muguruza never came close to losing a game. In all, she reeled off the last nine games of the match and as the finish line got closer, she got better. Pressure may have been her downfall over the last 12 months, but out of that crucible emerged a champion once more, one who has defeated the two greatest active players, Serena and Venus, in major finals. She is now the youngest woman to hold multiple major titles.
"I never thought I was just going to win one Slam," Muguruza told a small pool of reporter after the match when asked to identify the toughest doubts that would creep into her mind after winning the French Open. "It's just hard when you're playing really good and you want to keep that and maybe it doesn't happen, you feel like why can I not play like that every week because then I'll win every tournament.
"But it's very hard. Every week the consistency is the key and that's what I'm really trying to improve. I think this year I'm making a big step there."
Muguruza will return to the Top 5 on Monday and zoom up to No.3 in the Porsche Race to Singapore leaderboard, behind No.1 Simona Halep and No.2 Karolina Pliskova, and her Wimbledon fortnight puts her firmly in the hunt for the year-end No.1 ranking as the tour turns to hardcourts, where two of her four titles have come.
"I've been No.2 and No.3, and I felt how it is to win a Grand Slam and there is no comparison. Having the trophy, having to win the seven matches, it's a different feeling. I don't know how it is to be No.1. Hopefully one day I can and I can compare. But for now I would rather be No.10 and win Grand Slams than to be No.1."
"I'd rather focus on going to the next tournament trying to win and then I will be No.1. Because if I keep playing good and earning matches and tournaments I will have the chance eventually. But it's a consequence. I'm not thinking I have to be No.1."
Muguruza's win and Venus' fantastic run to the final sets up a final dash during the upcoming hardcourt season in North America and Asia. There is not a single player in the upcoming Top 10 or Porsche Race to Singapore leaderboard who does not excel on hardcourts, and Muguruza will once again be a player to beat.
For the third time in three years, dating back to her first major final here at Wimbledon in 2015, Muguruza proved that her dominant game can strike at any given moment, on any given surface, against any given opponent. You can't always count on her - "I have a very aggressive game which means one day I can be up, one day I can be down" - but one thing's for sure.
You can never count Garbiñe Muguruza out.