PARIS, France – A Spaniard was crowned champion at the French Open — but it wasn’t Rafael Nadal.
Garbine Muguruza upset Serena Williams 7-5 6-4 on Saturday to win the first grand slam of her career while also depriving the American of a record-tying 22nd.
While Nadal is considered the greatest clay-court player of all time — he owns a record nine titles at Roland Garros — Spain hadn’t produced a women’s champion at the French Open since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1998.
Sanchez-Vicario, courtside Saturday in Paris, earned the nickname “Barcelona bumblebee” from late tennis writer and historian Bud Collins. She was one of tennis’ top movers, relying on counter-punching to frustrate and wear down rivals.
Muguruza tallies victories in dissimilar fashion, crushing balls from the back of the court. Her serve, when working, is a weapon. It came to the 22-year-old’s aid more than once in the final, particularly when facing break points, although she also double faulted nine times.
Her ability to change direction in rallies and hit down the lines troubled Williams, who had downed Muguruza in the Wimbledon final last July.
They are sure to be celebrating in Venezuela, too. Muguruza was born in Caracas and only made the decision to represent Spain in team competitions two years ago.
If Nadal’s wrist heals in time — he pulled out of the French Open in the first week — he is expected to partner Muguruza in mixed doubles at the Olympics in August.
Williams, for the third consecutive major, didn’t win the title.
That is, for the 34-year-old, a blip. The aura of invincibility is surely fading.
Questions surrounded Williams’ health ahead of the final, with an adductor injury the issue. The world No. 1 appeared sluggish in the first set of her semifinal against Kiki Bertens on Friday and in the quarterfinals Thursday against Yulia Putintseva, when Williams was two games away from defeat.
She seemed to be moving fine throughout, though, against Muguruza but was outdone by the fourth seed.
The first momentum swing came in the third and fourth games. Muguruza saved two break points, one with an ace, and broke in the ensuing game when Williams double faulted.
Williams got back to 4-4 and Muguruza held firm serving at 4-5.
A crunching backhand down the line, followed by a penetrating forehand, allowed Muguruza to break for 6-5.
As the pendulum swung, Williams then benefited from two break points at 15-40. But after a forehand return wide and ace, Muguruza reached the respite of deuce. And on a third set point, she sealed the opener with a crunching backhand down the line.
How pivotal was the first set? Williams was 19-0 in grand slam finals when winning the first set and 2-5 when losing it.
Muguruza registered the key break of the second at 1-1 and held on to the advantage, despite Williams bravely saving four match points at 3-5. On the fifth, with Muguruza serving, she struck a brilliant backhand lob that Williams thought would go long.
It didn’t and Muguruza fell to the court in celebration.
Men’s No. 1 Novak Djokovic plays No. 2 Andy Murray for the men’s title Sunday.