Garbiñe Muguruza should have the mien of a condemned prisoner – albeit one about to collect a minimum £940,000 – yet she manages to sound as if she were preparing for a picnic on Wimbledon Common instead of being delivered up to Serena Williams on Centre Court on Saturday.
Even by the standards of prepared non-speak in which modern elite athletes are annoyingly fluent, her protestation that the Wimbledon final was “just like the other matches” was pushing it.
If the gifted young Spaniard with the winning smile and the big game imagines Williams is going to be anything less than ruthless because she professes to be equally relaxed, she has badly misread her challenge.
“Like the other days, you don’t have to do anything special,” she said. “You have to be more calm, that’s true, but you just practise, do your thing, just get ready like the other matches.”
Her other matches concluded with her best performance of the tournament, beating the previously out-of-sorts 13th seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 3-6, 6-3in the first semi-final on Thursday, shortly before Williams marmalised Maria Sharapova for the 17th time in a row, in straight sets and with a minimum of anxiety.
Reminded that Heather Watson had a poster of Serena on her bedroom wall when growing up and had given the American plenty to think about over three sets, Muguruza said she too held her up as the player to admire. “She was an inspiration for me because, when I was watching the TV, I would see her play finals, and she was No1,” she said. “You want to learn how she plays and try to see what you can do to play like her.”
All very admirable – except, at 33, Williams is still No1, indisputably so, and likely to remain that way until she chooses to stop playing, unless cut down by injury, ill health or hubris. It is improbable any of her contemporaries will seriously challenge her reign.
If Williams can destroy Sharapova – perhaps the toughest competitor in the game, men’s or women’s – she may not waste a lot of the fans’ time dismissing a player ranked 20th in the world who, before this tournament, had a single win at Wimbledon in three visits, over Anne Keothavong in 2013. If Muguruza is to become the first Spanish champion here since Conchita Martínez in 1994, she will have to play the match of her life against an opponent who has won the title five times.
Muguruza does have some cause for optimism, having beaten Williams handily in the second round at Roland Garros last year, 6-2, 6-2. And she took a set off her the last time they met, in the fourth round of the Australian Open this year. Williams won their only other encounter, 6-2, 6-0, also in Melbourne, in 2013.
Muguruza ought not be seduced by Williams’ cautious summary of the match the previous evening. Williams, reaching for her 21st slam title in her 25th final, is a raging favourite, yet talked down suggestions that this would be a formality. She has done this all summer and all tournament, clucking and chuckling to avoid even the mention of a “Serena Slam” here, as concurrent holder of all the majors, or a calendar grand slam by successfully defending her US Open title in September.
As Williams would like us to see it: “It’s definitely not an easy match-up. She actually has a win against me. We had a tough match the last time we played, and she’s given me problems in the past. So this time I have to just go in, have fun and do the best that I can, just try to stay positive and stay focused. I don’t think she’s intimidated at all. She’s not that kind of person. She’ll be fine.”
Pressed on why she should ask people to believe such a downbeat assessment, Williams said she wanted to take pressure off herself, repeating: “I want to have fun.”
She added: “I’ve won so many grand slam titles. I could lose tomorrow. Sure, I won’t be happy but I don’t need another Wimbledon title. I don’t need another US Open. I don’t need any titles to make it. Every time I step out on court, the practice court, the match court, I do look at it as a more fun time because it’s not as stressful as it was. Getting to 18 [majors] was super stressful for me. It was fun, but I was so stressed out. After that, I’ve just been really enjoying myself.”
Up to a point. Watson gave her fits over three sets, as did Victoria Azarenka. It is as if Williams sometimes needs that shock to find her best tennis.
Muguruza will do her best to provide that intensity. If she does, it could be an entertaining final. If not, it is likely to be as one-sided and predictable as was Williams’ win over Sharapova. That would be a shame.
Williams is two wins from moving alongside Steffi Graf on 22 majors; after that – and we are allowed to say it, even if she does not want us to – there is the grand slam for 2015. As ever, there is only one player who can stop her – and her name is not Muguruza.