It was 2 – 0 Muguruza in the first set of her first round match against American lefty, Varvara Lepchenko. Lepchenko had just hit a cross court backhand long. 15 – 0, Muguruza.
The Wimbledon champion moved over to the ad court and prepared to serve. As fate would have it, she missed and Lepchenko had a look at a second serve which was spun in at a medium pace. Nothing the American couldn’t handle. She whacked a forehand return back, initiating another furious rally with Muguruza. Yet it was the Spaniard who appeared in control. She yanked and pulled Lepchenko side to side with deep backhand drives down the line, stinging cross court drives and well-spun cross court forehands. On one of those forehands, Lepchenko sent yet another cross court backhand long. 30 – 0, Muguruza.
Lepchenko’s expression was one of bewilderment. It’s anyone’s guess as to what thoughts were playing in her mind.
How am I missing?
Or was it…
How is she making me miss?
Lepchenko would go on to miss badly on the next two points. By the time she sent a forehand wide on the first point of her own service game at 0 – 3, she had lost five points in a row and all of them had been errors. That forehand wide was off a Muguruza forehand that landed right on the baseline. At this point, it is clear to see what an uber confident Muguruza game looks like. She is a patient aggressive baseliner who doesn’t blow her opponents off the court in the scintillating fashion Serena Williams does. She uses her power to keep them off balance and constantly reaching for shots. It is a cruel game of false hope she plays, placing her shots at angles where her opponent can reach, but can’t do much with the reply. More times than not, it teases an error out of them. The effect is like missing one too many haymakers in a boxing match. It tires you out quickly – ahem McGregor – and sets you up to be knocked out.
One could argue that Lepchenko played terribly in that first set, but the key question is why? Remember Venus Williams in the Wimbledon final? Remember Simona Halep in the Cincinnati final? There is a trend. Facing Muguruza, they all looked mediocre at best and the common denominator in all of those matches was… Muguruza. She stalks the baseline so efficiently and her mechanics don’t look like they could break down under nerves, tension or pressure. The result is a metronomic power game that keeps her opponents on the constant back foot. It’s hard to play tennis like that, especially at this level.
Credit Lepchenko for mounting a spirited fight in the second set, but the way Muguruza played today made this match a foregone conclusion almost from the beginning. That’s how she’s been playing these days. With a potent power game and the right amount of placement. The effect has the dual devastating effect of raising her game while pulling down that of her opponent.
And so Muguruza marches on to the second round in a bid for what would be her first U.S Open title. She is my top favorite, followed by Venus Williams. There will be stiffer tests on the way but for her opponents, Garbine Muguruza might be the stiffest test of all.