Wednesday 13 December 2017

Serena Williams' place in the history books on hold again after French Open final defeat

Serena Williams was beaten by Garbine Muguruza of Spain
Serena Williams was beaten by Garbine Muguruza of Spain

Eleanor Crooks

Garbine Muguruza stormed to her first grand slam title at the French Open to leave Serena Williams waiting once again for her moment of history.

Playing in only her second slam final, Muguruza produced a sublime display of hitting to overpower the world number one and win 7-5 6-4.

Williams fought bitterly to hold onto her crown, saving four match points in a dramatic penultimate game, but Muguruza was not fazed.

When her final lob was deemed to have landed on the line, Muguruza collapsed to the clay while Williams applauded. It was all she could do.

The 22-year-old becomes the first Spanish winner at Roland Garros since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, who was watching from the President's Box, won the third of her titles in 1998.

Williams has been one short of equalling Steffi Graf's Open era record of 22 slam singles titles since she beat Muguruza in last year's Wimbledon final.

And to a semi-final defeat by Roberta Vinci at the US Open and a final loss against Angelique Kerber in Australia can now be added her first final defeat at Roland Garros.

Muguruza said: "I'm so excited. To play a final of a grand slam against one of the best players, it's the perfect final so I'm so happy.

"Serena's a very powerful player. I had to be ready and very concentrated all the points and I just tried to fight as much as I could."

Less than four months short of her 35th birthday, Williams' aura of invincibility has slipped noticeably.

She remains the clear world number one and will certainly be the favourite to retain her Wimbledon title but overtaking Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 slam crowns no longer seems the inevitability it did 12 months ago.

Muguruza announced her talent to the world by beating Williams 6-2 6-2 in the second round here two years ago. It was the American's heaviest loss at a slam.

But, for all her apparent clay-court prowess, this was the first final the Spaniard had reached on the surface.

Hopefully Muguruza did not look up the last player for whom that was also the case. Natasha Zvereva was destroyed 6-0 6-0 by Graf in 1988.

There was never likely to be a repeat of that, with Muguruza arguably a slight favourite going into the final.

The fourth seed, who insisted she had learned from her Wimbledon nerves, lost her opening set of the tournament but thereafter had breezed through the draw.

Williams, meanwhile, struggled badly against Yulia Putintseva and Kiki Bertens in her previous two matches and hinted that she was hampered by a thigh injury.

The world number one certainly looked a lot sharper at the start of the match and had two chances to break the Muguruza serve in the fourth game.

But, if the Spaniard was feeling the occasion, saving one with big hitting and the other with an ace would have settled her down no end.

Muguruza then pounced to break the Williams serve but, as in the Wimbledon final, her 4-2 lead quickly evaporated. However, that was where the comparisons ended.

Muguruza was out-hitting her illustrious opponent and Williams could do nothing as first a fizzing backhand and then a thumping forehand put the Spaniard 6-5 ahead.

Serving for the set there was plenty of opportunity for her to wobble as Williams created two break points but she saved both and then took her third set point with a backhand that the American was right on top of but could only watch fly by helplessly.

Every time Muguruza showed frailty, like serving successive double faults to drop serve early in the second, she responded impeccably.

More huge hitting helped her into a 3-1 lead, and Graf's record was starting to look safe for another day.

Williams fought as she always does and, on another day, saving four match points might have been crucial. But this was Muguruza's day.

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