Twelve days ago, we started this tournament with almost zero expectations for the women’s draw. It was supposedly as wide open as its ever been, making it all the more amusing that in the end, we get two women who’ve been here already.
Thirteen years separate Venus Williams and Garbine Muguruza, but both have already claimed a piece of grand slam glory, and now they face off for one more.
What’s at stake? How have they got here? How do they match up? Who will win? Read on to find out.
The story for Venus Williams here is simple: if she wins, she becomes the oldest woman (and second-oldest person after Ken Rosewall) in the open era to win a major, ten years after her last, and cements her status among the legends of the sport. Not only will it be a triumph over age and history, but her own battles with illness as well.
For Muguruza? Well, it restores her place as a legitimate present and future force in the women’s game, having spent most of the past year watching the shine slough off after her initial major triumph at Roland Garros 2016. Also considering the WTA’s need for a consistent star, perhaps Muguruza could emerge as the one to take that mantle.
Both women have been largely dominant heading into the final, which is part of what makes this clash so mouthwatering. Each woman has dropped a grand total of one set through six matches, but even more importantly has looked brilliant through their last few matches. That said, if there’s any question mark on either side, it’s whether Muguruza’s semifinal 6-1, 6-1 destruction of world no. 85 Magdalena Rybarikova adequately prepares her for the step-up Williams is sure to offer, but both women have beaten plenty of big names this tournament (Kerber and Kuzenetsova for Muguruza, Ostapenko and Konta for Williams), so that shouldn’t be an issue.
Williams and Muguruza have played four times before, with the former leading 3-1. However, that might not be as confidence-inducing for Venus as you’d think. One of her wins was due to Muguruza retiring, and the other two came on hard in 2013. In contrast, Muguruza’s sole victory came this year in Rome, and while obviously clay is different to grass, would have seen a far more accurate facsimile of their game as presently constructed.
As to those games, these women aren’t too dissimilar, but they each have their own brand of offensive baseline tennis. Standing 6’1 and 6’0 respectively, Williams and Muguruza are two of the tallest players in the women’s game, and get plenty of pace off serve and forehand from the extra momentum generated through swinging their long limbs, but Williams’ ball comes through flatter, and accelerates easier off her forehand side. On the backhand wing, Muguruza possesses the edge, having a better ability to both defend and attack – even to the point of stepping around forehands – which makes it particularly hard to play shots there and unseat her from the baseline. Combining the two, expect plenty of powerful baseline exchanges, but Williams will be more content to let the weight of her shots do the talking, while Muguruza will look to be the more aggressive manoeuvring around the court – including at net – and that could give her a slight edge in creating point-ending opportunities.
Still, any edge given either way is razor thin, and likely to turn on a moment’s notice. Neither player can afford to be defensive, but consistency will play a major factor, and with the significance of the moment unlikely to be lost on either woman, so could nerves – if it comes down to sheer ruthlessness in the moment, the advantage reverts to Williams.
Muguruza in three. Truly this is one of the hardest matches to predict, and it’s likely whoever wins does so on the basis of a few crucial games. The Spaniard gets the nod for her advantage in the battle for all-important attacking position, but it is so, so close. All that can be said with any confidence is that it’s sure to be a brilliant match, and a fitting conclusion to a highly entertaining two weeks in the women’s game.