Over the first 10 days of 2017, we're examining the Top 10 players on the ATP and WTA tours—how will they fare during the new season? All of the previews can be found here.
Coming into the 2016 season, Garbine Muguruza was the WTA’s most talked-about player. After starting the previous year ranked just 21st, she had reached her first Grand Slam final, at Wimbledon, and had finished the season on a streak so hot that it took her all the way to No. 3 in the world. The 6-foot Spaniard had the size and power to hit with anyone; was she destined to be the next woman to win her first major title? More than that, was she destined to be the tour’s first post-Serena star?
The answers to those questions were a definitive yes, and a nearly as definitive no. After a slow start to the season, Muguruza caught fire on clay and beat Serena for the French Open title. At last, the leader of a new generation seemed ready to take her place at the top of the women’s game. Muguruza was 22, she was tall and rangy, she was composed under pressure, she could hit her opponents off the court and she was a threat on all surfaces.
But she was still, it turned out, prodigiously erratic. The Slam hangover started early for the Spaniard; she lost in the second round at Wimbledon to 124th-ranked Jana Cepelova. That loss wasn’t too surprising, but the ones that followed were. At the Olympics, Muguruza was blown out by 34th-ranked Monica Puig, 6-1, 6-1; at the U.S. Open, she lost to 48th-ranked Anastasija Sevastova; and after peaking at No. 2 in June, she finished the season No. 7. Outside of Paris, the only memorable parts of Muguruza’s season were the sarcastic swipes—“Tell me something I don’t know!”—she took at her coach, Sam Sumyk, when he dared to offer some advice during a changeover.
It’s not as if we hadn’t been warned. After reaching the Wimbledon final in 2015, Muguruza struggled to win a match for the next three months. Still, she rose from those ashes, so why can’t she do it again? The talent is there; the problem is that on the days when it’s not flowing naturally, she struggles. If Muguruza starts a match poorly, she very rarely improves over the course of two sets; with her, you can usually guess the outcome after two games. If her future is like her past, Muguruza’s peaks will be as spectacular as they are short-lived.