Shortly before her opening match at Wimbledon last week, the Spanish player Garbine Muguruza sent a joking text to her compatriot Conchita Martinez, who won the tournament in 1994.
“We were laughing… because I was like, ‘Conchita, I’m not sure about grass.” The 21-year-old had not got beyond the second round in her two previous visits to the All England Club, and her preparation for the tournament this year had involved two early exits in Birmingham and Eastbourne.
She has never liked playing on grass – the bounce of the ball is “weird”, she has said – and it didn’t look like the surface was going to be any more friendly this season.
Martinez’s texts in reply, however, showed she had faith.
“She’s like, ‘C’mon, you can play good.’ She’s just telling me every day, every match, ‘Keep going, you’re doing great.’ Giving me power.”
On Thursday it became apparent quite how much power, when the 6ft Muguruza dispatched Agnieszka Radwanska to win a place in her first ever Grand Slam final, on her first ever visit to Centre Court.
There was no one more surprised than the Spaniard herself. As she smashed a forehand winner to take the match 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, she dropped her racquet, put her hands to her face, and collapsed face first onto the grass. “I don’t have words to explain it,” she said moments later, flashing her characteristic dimpled smile. “I worked all my life to achieve this moment.”
Tracy Austin, commentating for the BBC, was clear about the significance of the victory, saying: “A star is born in women’s tennis.”
But though she is ranked number 20 in the world and has twice reached the quarter finals of Roland Garros – beating Serena Williams last year – it almost seems success has come sooner than even the immensely likeable Spaniard expected.
Asked in her post-match press conference to explain her second set wobble, when she let her Polish opponent back into the match to win six games in a row, she giggled and said: “Well, I think I was 6-2, 3-1 [up]. I was like, what?”
Muguruza has dual nationality, having been born in Venezuela to a Spanish-Basque father and Venezuelan mother. The family moved to Barcelona when she was a young child, and she rarely visits the South American country.
It was a dilemma, all the same, when she was forced last year to choose which country to represent – “My family, half is in Spain and half is in Venezuela. Someone’s going to hate me so I don’t want to choose.” She opted, however, for Spain.
In her spare time she watches tennis and loves to cook – “sweet things, with sugar, not with salt. I know it’s not good for me, but it’s how I like to spend time.”
Having not expected to do well on her least favourite surface, the player told her parents not to watch her play in London. “They [said to] me two days ago, ‘We want to come.’ I said, ‘No! Don’t change anything!'” She had been brushing her teeth the same way and getting out of bed using the same leg, she laughed, so as not to jinx her unexpected run.