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Instagram can be a wonderful outlet to better understand an individual through a visual lens. Amid requisite sponsor posts and magazine covers, one of Garbiñe Muguruza’s most popular forms of expression is with video, where dance features as a frequent element.

On January 31, the former world No. 1 shared a compilation from Melbourne. In this particular cut, Muguruza is full of vivacious energy and there’s a freedom to her movements. The track she underlaid it with is Salt-N-Pepa’s 1986 “Push It”, which in Sandra Denton’s (Pepa) words, is all “about pushing it on the dance floor.”

If a tennis court is Muguruza’s primary dance floor, the 28-year-old certainly pushed it real good in 2021. After finishing without a title for the first time in seven years, Muguruza brought home three trophies—her career-best in a single season—and ended as the world No. 3.

“I might not have won a Grand Slam, but I deeply feel like I've been happier and more stable, less dramatic,” she said after becoming the first Spaniard in history to win the WTA Finals.

“Overall, I think it's the best year for me.”

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In a way, Muguruza’s substantial push at the year-end event was a culmination of all the pushing varieties she exercised beforehand. There was the uncharted Australia swing, where players quarantined for two weeks to meet COVID-19 requirements. Down Under, Muguruza picked apart Sofia Kenin in an Australian Open final rematch en route to a runner-up effort at a 500 event, then held two match points against eventual winner Naomi Osaka in the fourth round of the Melbourne major.

Prior to her next swing of events, coach Conchita Martinez tested positive for COVID-19 upon arriving in Doha. The two pressed forward by moving their consultations to video conferencing. The result? Two final appearances in the Middle East with one long-awaited title at Dubai’s 1000 tournament, a valiant effort after being blitzed by a peak-hitting Petra Kvitova in the Doha title match.

“It doesn’t happen often,” Muguruza said then. “I’m excited that it happened now, after a few finals that didn’t go my way. A nice relief to be able to hold a champion’s trophy.”

While the start and finish to her season was all about pushing to deliver her best tennis, the middle was all about pushing through setbacks. A left-thigh injury sustained in Charleston hampered her clay-court campaign, posting just five games during a first-round exit to Marta Kostyuk at Roland Garros.

At the Tokyo Olympics, she was a win away from reaching the medal round, only to fall to Elena Rybakina in the quarterfinals. She lost to French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova twice at the conclusion of the North American hard-court season in Cincinnati and the US Open, the latter most widely known for Muguruza pushing back against Krejcikova’s extended medical timeout and time between points by telling the Czech her behavior was “so unprofessional” at the net.

TC Live: Muguruza's WTA Finals triumph

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Muguruza’s results at the Grand Slam events this year may leave something to be desired given her career résumé, but there’s strong reason to think that won’t be the case when the calendar turns. For one, she pushed her way up to a Top 3 return for the first time since June 2018, an effort that should in theory pay off with kinder draws in the earlier stages of marquee tournaments.

There’s also the final quarter of Muguruza’s season, one defined by pushing back against opponents who previously got the better of her. There was outclassing Wimbledon conqueror Ons Jabeur in the Chicago 500 final, a key result that played its part in the Tunisian missing out on qualifying for the WTA Finals.

There was Krejcikova, who Muguruza toppled in a critical round-robin clash to keep her Guadalajara dream within reach. Two days later, she found herself across the net from Anett Kontaveit, a red-hot contender on 12-match win streak that included a 6-1, 6-1 thrashing of Muguruza in Moscow. The Spaniard cooled off Kontaveit in straight sets to reach the semifinals, then upstaged the Estonian again to clinch her biggest title in more than four years.

“It is true that the last couple of years, I didn't play the same way I played before. But I didn't play bad tennis either,” she reflected afterwards. “I was just here, there, not going into the deep rounds at Grand Slams that made the difference. I always felt I had the tennis. I was just not putting the battle together.

“This is just another proof that I think I'm actually in the best moment of my career.”

Was 2021 a rebirth of Muguruthless? Maybe, maybe not. Or perhaps it was as simple as the salt to her pepper coming together. We can only wait in anticipation to see how good Garbi pushes it come 2022.