In a defeat that cost her not just a place in the quarter-finals but her world No.1 spot too, top seed Angelique Kerber was edged out of Wimbledon 2017 in an utterly enthralling epic by Garbiñe Muguruza.
With the German cloaked in a near-permanent air of diffidence this year, it was horribly ironic that her dethroning should result from a contest of superlative heart and quality. Muguruza’s dazzling attack saw her into the last eight 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in two hours and 18 minutes, and she will face Svetlana Kuznetsova for a place in the semi-finals.
You didn’t have to be Brain Of Britain to spot this as a charisma-packed potential last 16 match-up from the moment the draw was made, and it more than lived up to expectations. Each of these Slam winners was experiencing a mini-crisis – Kerber struggling to own that No.1 spot in every sense, Muguruza without so much as a final to her name, never mind a title, since capturing the crown at Roland Garros 13 months ago.
With these two taking the runners-up place at the last two Wimbledons (to Serena Williams in both cases), both needed to step up a level at the start of this second week – and in a sensational battle on No.2 Court, they did just that.
“We both gave our best,” said the Spaniard afterwards. “I fight. She was fighting. Every point was kind of incredible. I was ready for a battle. It must be difficult to be in her position [No.1]. I was sad of course to lose in Paris last month. But I liked the way I handled it. I wasn’t at all with the spirit down. I said, ‘Look, grass is starting. I did well, I’m here. I have everything to win. I want to go back on the top.’”
Muguruza attacked the net, in the clear belief that she would struggle to beat the US Open champion from the back of the court, and the statistics relating to that tactic would ultimately spell out the story of the match. Muguruza won 35 out 54 battles at the net (Kerber advanced just seven times), and her attack yielded 50 winners – but 55 errors too, such was the risk.
Kerber’s current predicament is illustrated by the fact that this would prove to be the ninth occasion in 2017 when she had faced a top 20 opponent, and emerged vanquished. Not once this year has she managed such a win.
With her place as world No.1 depending (among other factors) on her repeating her appearance in the final, in the first three rounds at this Championships she had managed to grind out the wins without giving any impression of gaining terribly much confidence from any of them.
But in this fourth round, she left her habitually haunted-looking expression in the locker room and put on her game face.
Muguruza was watched courtside by her guest coach for this Fortnight, the 1994 Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez. It wasn’t difficult to figure out their chosen tactics – the 23-year-old Spaniard was on the offensive, going for the lines and attacking the net. She prospered to the audible approval of Martinez, who applauded winners with a shout of: “Grande!” This translates as not only the approving “big!”, but as an entreaty to “keep it big” – in other words, continue with more of the same, which is what Muguruza did.
But such tactics carry one obvious in-built risk – the creation of proportionately too many unforced errors. And at 4-4 in the first, that was what transpired. Forehand mistakes set up an opportunity for Kerber, and after the latest of many long, intense rallies, Muguruza’s attempted backhand winner down the line drifted wide. Next game she was a touch hesitant, uncertain whether to keep leaving herself open to error with the set at stake. An absolutely magnificent rally decided it, with Kerber putting away a smash to take the opening chapter.
These two had met seven times previously with the wins finely balanced – but the key fact was that Muguruza had taken all four of their most recent matches. One of the Spaniard’s wins came here two years ago, on her way to the final. With that knowledge in mind, she began turning the ship around, and although she could not convert her first break point mid-way through the second set, it signposted a shift in momentum. She breached successfully for 5-4, and pushed Kerber into error. The German saw off one set point with a socking forehand, but on the next a weak second serve gave Muguruza the platform to carve a winner.
In the utterly thrilling decider neither could make a conclusive breakthrough – Kerber led 2-0 but by 3-3 there were two breaks apiece. The key to victory was Muguruza’s ten-minute hold for 4-3. Two games later Kerber served her way out of two match point threats, but Muguruza grabbed the third to bring this electrifying encounter to its conclusion.
Source: Kate Battersby| Wimbledon