What Serena Williams' Loss to Garbine Muguruza Means for Wimbledon 2016

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistJune 4, 2016

Serena Williams walks to the other side of the net during her match against Svetlana Kuznetsova at the Miami Open tennis tournament, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Key Biscayne, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Serena Williams' quest for a second straight French Open title came up just short as the world's top-ranked player was defeated by Garbine Muguruza in the championship match.

It represented a rare occasion where Williams was outplayed. The 22-year-old Spanish rising star showed no signs of being concerned about the top seed's immense power, instead using that pace to set herself up for a wide variety of winners, from lasers down the line to easy putaways at net.

There will be questions about how much an adductor injury impacted the defending champion's play, but she shrugged off the issue afterward, per Christopher Clarey of the New York Times.

"Adductor or not, she played to win, and that's what she did," Williams said.

The loss marks the third straight Grand Slam tournament in which Williams has not won dating back to last year's U.S. Open. It also raises a few questions about where the 34-year-old's game is at right now with a quick turnaround heading into Wimbledon at the end of June. 

After a slow start to 2016—at least by her lofty standards—Williams appeared to be turning things around heading into Roland Garros with a victory at the Italian Open. Her competition in Italy wasn't great, as Svetlana Kuznetsova was the only seeded opponent she went up against. She defeated Madison Keys in the finals. 

That victory marked Williams' first title of the year after previously reaching the finals at the Australian Open and BNP Paribas Open. 

Optimism returned for Williams coming into the French Open as a result of her first title of the year. She did not seem concerned about where her game was at even before the Italian Open.

"It's only four tournaments, so it's not like I was playing every week," said Williams, per Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times. "So that's kind of how I look at it. But it feels great to win a title, especially on clay."

Peter Bodo of ESPN.com noted the rest of the WTA field appeared to be in trouble because Williams said she was starting to feel better after winning in Italy:

It's a large, somewhat rag-tag group because only No. 6 Victoria Azarenka has showed an appetite for domination. Williams' other rivals juggle opportunities as if they were hot potatoes, dropping them as quickly as they get their fingers on them. There is much pecking, no clear pecking order.

Yet here we are, pondering another loss for Williams in a Grand Slam tournament. The recent track record isn't yet long enough to start asking if this is the end for her as the best player in the world. There also hasn't been anyone ready to take over that particular spot on the mantle. 

It is, however, an appropriate time to start looking at just how engaged Williams is at this point. Whenever she has struggled in the past, it's been due to injuries and some questions about her level of interest. 

Williams' reign of dominance opened many doors away from tennis. She has done various acting jobs and has a clothing line that commands some of her attention. 

Athletes feed off competition, but Williams has often been an athlete who needs to fall before reminding the world why she's the best.

Wimbledon has provided Williams that stage six times in the past, including last year.

There will come a time when the losses start piling up for Williams because of her age in a sport that doesn't often allow for success after the age of 30, though she's continued to rack up titles so far. 

Losing at the French Open, which has been her least successful Grand Slam with "only" three career titles, doesn't mean it's time to start throwing in the towel on Williams. If she has an early exit from Wimbledon, then the panic meter may start to rise.