WIMBLEDON, England â In the front row of the Friends Box sat Conchita Martinez, one of the worldâs foremost experts on the art of using uncommon will to puncture uncommon sentimentality in an uncommon setting. Twenty-three years ago on Centre Court, a 22-year-old Martinez left 37-year-old Martina Navratilova a sighing runner-up in a blaze of third-set passing shots almost shocking in their totality.
On Saturday, Martinez paid close-up witness to something almost preposterous in coincidence. A 23-year-old fellow Spaniard she has coached in Federation Cup and helped out individually for the last three weeks, Garbine Muguruza, reiterated her deep seriousness about her tiptop caliber. By wielding her powerful will in a match full of power with 37-year-old Venus Williams, especially during a ferocious late stage of the first set, Muguruza won her second Grand Slam title, 7-5, 6-0, and left Williams a sighing runner-up.
Then the first-time Wimbledon champion and 2015 Wimbledon finalist said, âI didnât want to lose this time, because I know the difference.â
That grew loudly obvious at 5-4 in the first set with the match on serve and Williams having held serve for 52 or her last 54 service games, stretching back into the second set of her second round. Muguruza served, sprinkled in some forehand errors and tumbled into severe inconvenience at 15-40, two set points for the five-time champion. The crowd murmured that patented Wimbledon murmur. What followed would have seemed downright ludicrous: Williams would lose the last nine games and her last four service games, and that process would afford a full-on glimpse at Muguruzaâs towering will.
In her head, she assured herself that her forehand errors were about to depart the premises in favor of forehand stingers inside the baseline. In her head also, she had a fantastic turn of thinking, ideal for the tension. âI was expecting the best Venus,â she said, âbecause I saw her, and she was playing very good. I knew she was going to, you know, make me suffer and fight for it. When I had those set points against me, Iâm like, âHey, itâs normal. Iâm playing Venus here.â So I just keep fighting.â
The next point proved that smashingly. It was a 20-shot marvel full of grunts and bangs and thwacks that rang indoors under the roof beneath a London drizzle. As it wound on, it seemed clear that Muguruza, the 2016 French Open champion over Serena Williams, would have hit groundstrokes until December to get that point. Williams finally shipped a forehand from the baseline into the net, and next Muguruza placed a 98-mph serve diabolically enough that Williams returned that long.
It was deuce, but it was almost over, even if nobody knew. A 15-shot rumble on Muguruzaâs second break point in the next game ended with Williamsâ forehand long for 6-5, and a world-class 12-shot tussle in the 6-5 game included a swell Williams lob in heaving defense but ended when Williams netted a backhand. Muguruza knelt over somewhat and fist-pumped behind the baseline.
Only then did 23-year-old begin to look very much 23, and the 37-year-old very much 37, as if that little stretch of compounding disappointment left her compromised. Muguruza won 26 of the 38Â points in a second set that seemed only filler, and it was time to count the coincidences.
âIt was a whole different matchâ from 1994, âand it wasnât talking about me,â said Martinez, filling in with Muguruza while her coach, Sam Sumyk, remained home for the birth of a child. âIt was more about what she had to do to beat Venus, and not focus on her age. But inside of me, in my mind, you know, there were too many coincidences. Thirty-seven. She beat on clay this year in Rome. I beat Martina on clay that year in Rome, that year that I won, so I was like, âOkay, weâre gonna do this.â â
The finalists, in turn, sounded as winners and runners-up tend to sound: one with effusive, multi-paragraph answers, the other with a lot of brevity, her disappointment clear at the opportunity lost.
Muguruza: âAt the beginning, you know, I didnât like grass. For sure I suffered, you know, to play and to handle it. It took me a while to calm down, to say, âHey, itâs grass, you have to adapt to the surface.â Once I did this Wimbledon final, everything changed for me because I felt like, âStop complaining, your game suits this surface.â Since that moment Iâm like, âI like grass and Iâm going to look at it in a positive way.â â
Williams: âYeah, I think she played amazing. She played amazing.â
Muguruza, a big-game player who has struggled to master the smaller matters: âI donât know, I think once I go to the big court, I feel good. I feel like thatâs where I want to be, thatâs what I practice for. Thatâs where I play good, you know. This is what I would like to. Iâm happy to go to the Centre Court and to play the best player. Thatâs what motivates me.â
Williams, on whether her age or her autoimmune condition, Sjogrenâs syndrome, had sapped her: âI mean, she played top tennis, so I have to give her credit for just playing a better match.â
Muguruza, on playing without her main coach: âYou have to think that my level tennis-tically doesnât change, no matter who is in my box or not. Iâm the same player.â
Williams, on whether, presumably, she will return next year: âPresumably, yes.â
As with Navratilova then, the sentiment tilted toward Williams now, yet her performances of recent Grand Slams suggest a consistent reprise that defies all sentiment. Though Saturdayâs match marked her first Wimbledon final since 2009, she is the only player on the WTA Tour to reach two Grand Slam finals this year, the only player on the WTA Tour to reach the round of 16 in all the last six Grand Slams. So it fit that at a Wimbledon so much about Williams, a fresh champion concluded her English remarks raving about Williams.
âIâm just very surprised that sheâs hungry to keep winning,â Muguruza said. âShe has won almost everything. Sheâs not anymore young to be looking forward to all these matches. She just shows this toughness. I donât know. I donât know if I will be like this with her age.â
And then: âProbably I wonât, because sheâs the only one.â