Muguruza Literally Climbed To The Mountaintop. Now, She’s In A Good Space.

Garbiñe Muguruza climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (Twitter photo)

International Blog – Michael Dickens

Since 2016, Garbiñe Muguruza’s tennis career has been defined by a series of peaks and valleys. As the Spaniard mounts a comeback in 2020, she’s literally climbed to the mountaintop. Now, Muguruza’s in a good space.

The 26-year-old Muguruza reached the title match of last week’s Australian Open by stringing together six straight victories before losing to the No. 14 seed American upstart Sofia Kenin, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. Along the way, the unseeded Muguruza knocked off three Top 10 players – Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens and reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep – to earn a place in her first Australian Open final.

Muguruza’s resurgence and a return to championship form during the Australian fortnight came after her ranking slipped to No. 36 at the end of last year, which was a five-year low. Now, thanks to her inspiring run in Melbourne, she’s moved back into the Top 20 at No. 16.

When Muguruza walked onto Rod Laver Arena to face Kenin, it was her first major final since 2018 at the French Open. She attained the world No. 1 ranking in September 2017, after winning the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017. However, it would not last. Muguruza was eliminated in the first round of both Wimbledon and the US Open last year.

Looking back, Muguruza reflected on her struggles during her Melbourne press conferences. “I wanted to be better. … I think the toughest moments are when you work hard, work like before or even harder, and you don’t feel like results are coming fast,” she said. “So, I think that’s the tricky part of us. Athletes sometimes can get a little bit desperate, get too impatient about it.

“You just have to be patient and go through the rough moments, just hang in there, and it will come back again.”

And it has.

First, Muguruza parted ways with her coach Sam Sumyk, who is now mentoring Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, and began working with 1994 Wimbledon champion and future Hall of Famer Conchita Martinez during the offseason in San Diego, Calif.

“I needed a different voice, different energy,” said Muguruza in describing why she decided to change coaches. She and Martinez previously worked together while Muguruza played Fed Cup for Spain.

“I feel like the pre-season was very, very good,” Martinez explained. “There was a lot of time to actually work on things, on things that were needed. I think the results are here. It’s very nice to see things you’ve been working on in pre-season, and you see her on the court, she’s doing these things.”

By the time Muguruza arrived in Melbourne, it seemed, the Venezuelan-born Spaniard brought with her a positive attitude and an improved outlook which she attributes to spending the start of her offseason climbing famed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania on the African continent. It was a mind-clearing and reinvigorating experience for her.

During the first week of the Australian Open, Muguruza was asked in one of her press conferences to describe what her mountain climbing experience was like. “It was a very hard challenge, completely different of what I do. You’re climbing that mountain, and it’s only you. You don’t get any award, any prize, any photo, any nothing up there.

“It’s really challenging, physically and mentally to be there, and I was just looking for something fun, a different experience outside from tennis. Tennis, you know, we’re here the whole year, and just to get out a little bit and do something different. I had no idea about it because I have never done anything similar before. I really like the experience to see myself in the middle of nowhere, just having one clear thought, just to keep climbing.

“You know … at some point, you’re like, ‘Okay, what am I doing here? I was happy to go through (it).”

Why Mount Kilimanjaro?

“I wanted to have a challenge, a reachable challenge, because if I pick another one, I put myself in a risky, risky situation. But it was a very good experience. … It was great to do it,” she said.

Going forward, on the tennis court, Muguruza appears to be finally on track. Her match results – a semifinal finish in Shenzhen followed by a quarterfinal result in Hobart, culminated by playing in the first major final of the year – reflect her improvement and outlook. She was the first unseeded player to reach the Australian Open final in 10 years.

“You lose a final, but you got to make it to the final to be able to win or lose,” Muguruza said after losing to Kenin.

“As you can see, she’s good, in a good space, working hard,” said Martinez. “That’s the most important thing.”

“ … I’m happy with the team that I have, happy with the work that I’ve been doing,” said Muguruza. “You know starting fresh and just excited about this year.”