ROLAND GARROS – Reigning French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza kept insisting she wasn’t overly concerned about defending her title. Roland Garros was just another tournament. No big deal, bla bla bla.
No one really believed her. It may well be, in the end, she had trouble even convincing herself.
Muguruza was shuffled out of this year’s tournament Sunday both by No. 13 seed Kristina Mladenovic – and by 10,000 French supporters in a full-to-bursting Court Suzanne Lenglen.
How much of it was Mladenovic, who is having a great spring, and how much was the crowd in the 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 loss?
Hard to measure. In all likelihood, it was a combination of both, plus the occasion. The pressure that had visibly accumulated all season long finally reached a breaking point.
The French fans are never easy, especially when one of their own is playing. The Lenglen faithful were tough on Muguruza, who left the court wagging her index finger and shaking her head, “No, no,” at some fans.
They might have wanted her autograph, or a wristband. But since it was likely they had just spent the last two hours vociferously cheering her every mistake, that wasn’t going to happen.
A little more respect, please
“I just think that they were a little bit, sometimes should be a little bit more respectful. Even (during) the game, because we had to, you know, stop. The chair umpire has to always calm the crowd down,” Muguruza said afterwards. “I’m not here to create enemies. I mean, I love playing here.
“It’s not a good feeling.”
The 23-year-old Spaniard did her best to keep her cool on the court. But as the match went on, she became increasingly agitated.
She probably even felt as though the ballkids were conspiring to take their sweet time fetching her towel, because she started to bark at them.
In the end, despite some positive work during this tournament, some tough wins against good opponents that turned around her season to some extent, she didn’t make the second week.
“I obviously was a little bit nervous. Through the match I was getting more and more. Also because the feeling (the crowd effect). So it’s true that I couldn’t really find my game, but I don’t think I did really (anything) wrong out there. You know, I just think it went to her side, and that’s all,” Muguruza said.
Overcome with emotion
After a few questions during her press conference, all the emotions she had been holding back just sort of hit like a small wave. Visibly distraught, Muguruza left the interview room.
To her credit, she returned in short order. And she was even able to drop a bit of snark in answering the question that was being asked before she left. It was about whether she heard Mladenovic yelling out “Fuerza!!!” after some of Muguruza’s errors. Or it might have been “Forza!!”. Mladenovic has many options.
Mladenovic has been known to do that – shout out things like that in her opponent’s language. Muguruza said she didn’t hear it. “I think she speaks, like, 25 languages, I heard, so… ”
— Kristina Mladenovic (@KikiMladenovic) October 31, 2012
So tough to defend
The Spaniard is a bit of a difficult player to get behind, partly because she doesn’t give you much. So many of her on-court emotions are negative ones – especially this season. Her consults with coach Sam Sumyk during the regular WTA Tour matches are uncomfortable to watch. In her interviews, she’s preternaturally composed. She speaks deliberately (and very well) in English, but without inflection.
But this one was a tough one. It’s a tough way to go about endearing yourself to people but on some level, it humanized her. Unless you’re a diehard French tennis fan, it was impossible not to feel for the position she was in.
Yes, a professional athlete should be able to just shut all that out. But they’re human. Afterwards, she was open and honest and vulnerable about just how challenging this first Grand Slam title defense was.
Muguruza had been expecting to play on the big court Sunday, Court Philippe-Chatrier. That was understandable given she’s the reigning champion, and her opponent is the No. 1 Frenchwoman.
The schedulers threw her a deliberate curve, no doubt about it.
Court Suzanne-Lenglen is a lovely court. But it’s more intimate than the main stadium. And because it doesn’t have as many corporate loges – all those expensive, but too-often empty seats you’ll see for many of the matches there – there was going to be a whole lot more noise and a whole lot more atmosphere.
It all played right into Mladenovic’s hands perfectly. The No. 1 Frenchwoman loves a crowd. And she especially loves a crowd that is unanimously cheering for her.
“I love this tournament no matter what happens. I’m going to be super happy to come back. I think it’s just – it’s gonna sound weird, but I’m actually happy that this stage of the year is done. … I think I’m going to feel much better now to continue the year, and everybody is going to stop bothering me, asking me about this tournament, so it’s going to be a little bit like, ‘Whew, let’s keep going’,” Muguruza said.
Muguruza’s ranking is going to take a hit. She’s likely to drop from No. 5 down to No. 14, with the 2,000 ranking points from a Grand Slam title coming off, and only some of them earned back with the fourth-round appearance.
“It’s such an important tournament for me. I’m sure it’s going to hurt. More than other tournaments,” said Muguruza. “But as I said, I’m quite pleased with my result. I’m not going to be too dramatic about this. I just had a very tough opponent today.”
Well, about 10,000 rough opponents. But who was counting?