French Open Champ Garbine Muguruza the Heir Apparent to Serena Williams' Throne

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistJune 4, 2016

Garbine Muguruza holds out her hands to receive the 2016 French Open trophy.
Garbine Muguruza holds out her hands to receive the 2016 French Open trophy.Associated Press

Tears forecast Garbine Muguruza's championship pedigree.

Last year, after losing to Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final, Muguruza retreated to her chair and started crying. Unlike many other young players who suffer defeat to one of the greatest of all time, Muguruza was feeling none of that "just happy to be here" stuff.

Instead, she sobbed. Holding the runner-up trophy was not in her plans. Muguruza knew she had championship talent.

Williams is 12 years older than Muguruza. Williams has been playing professional tennis for two decades and dominating the WTA Tour for the past four years. Contenders and pretenders have come and gone. But this 22-year-old Spaniard looks like the real deal, an heir apparent.

Muguruza defeated Williams 7-5, 6-4 to win the 2016 French Open. It's her first Grand Slam title, but it's probably not her last.

On the heels of Williams winning four Grand Slams in a row, Muguruza becomes the third consecutive first-time Grand Slam champion.

A teary-eyed Garbine Muguruza reacts to losing the 2015 Wimbledon final.
A teary-eyed Garbine Muguruza reacts to losing the 2015 Wimbledon final.Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press
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However, unlike the wins of 2015 U.S. Open champion Flavia Pennetta and 2016 Australian Open Angelique Kerber, Muguruza's victory feels like the beginning of something special. Pennetta had already decided to retire before she won her title. Kerber is 28 and closer to the end of her career than the beginning.

Muguruza has already been to two Grand Slam finals. Most importantly, she checks off all the boxes needed for rule the WTA.

Big serve? Check. Big body? Check. Aggressive game? Check. Killer instinct? Check? Mental toughness? Double check.

Called "Muguruthless" by some, the 6-foot, 161-pound Spaniard turned the tables on Williams. In a relatively evenly played match, Muguruza played the big points better.

After the win, her coach, Sam Sumyk, told the Associated Press (h/t ABC News) about her mental toughness.

"I'm convinced that she was panicking a bit inside, that the fires were burning, but she managed that part and those moments well. For a coach who is watching that, it's magnificent. ... She has extraordinary mental resources."

Christopher Clarey @christophclarey

Muguruza has serious stage presence and now she has a major singles title, too. Won't be her last

Muguruza admitted to being bit overwhelmed in her first Slam final appearance. She told the Associated Press (h/t Yahoo News), "I was tense. It was difficult for me to manage stress. ... I have learned a lot how to control my emotions inside the court and outside the court. It's very important, because sometimes it's not too good to show them."

It's that type of introspection that will help Muguruza thwart the challenges that arise when a player goes from the hunter to the hunted. She seems to understand that becoming a champion is a process, not an event.

A week before the French Open, Muguruza lost to Madison Keys in the semifinals a the BNL d'Italia in Rome. She told reporters, per ASAPsports transcripts, how the time on court was good preparation for the French Open.

"It was a great week for me. I would like, for sure, to be in the final and win, but I felt really good playing these matches here, so it's perfect for French Open."

Brad Gilbert @bgtennisnation

Huge from the start of this match Muguruthless has been able to hold her court position right on the baseline and dictating play vs SW21

The Venezuelan-born Muguruza is now 2-3 against Williams. That's a better winning percentage against Williams than Victoria Azarenka (4-17), Kerber (2-5), Agnieszka Radwanska (0-10) and Simona Halep (1-7).

Muguruza first defeated Williams in the second round of the 2014 French Open. The 6-2, 6-2 win remains Williams' worst defeat at a Grand Slam.

Aggressive and relentless, Muguruza hit Williams off the court. Attack, attack, attack. It was something Muguruza learned from Williams.

Muguruza once said, per The Score, "She was my favorite player as a kid, and I watched her on TV growing up. When I practiced, I studied how Serena serves, how she plays a backhand. I saw like 100 videos of her."

Seems only fitting that such a dedicated pupil would graduate to succeed Williams.

The Telegraph's Simon Briggs described how Muguruza uses the same high-risk/rewards style that made Williams a 21-time Grand Slam winner:

Yesterday, Muguruza's only weakness was a tally of nine double-faults. Or was it a weakness after all? Her plan may have been to deny Williams the chance to hit any easy return winners – one of the world No. 1's trademarks – and gain rhythm and confidence as a result. Better to aim strong and deep and pay the price of the occasional miscue.

According to ESPN.com tennis writer Greg Gaber, Muguruza's performance was "reminiscent of a 17-year-old Williams taking down Marina Hingis for her first Grand Slam singles championship at the 1999 US Open. That was, incredibly, nearly 17 years ago."

Rafa Nadal @RafaelNadal

Congrats Garbiñe for your win at Roland Garros. Great news for Spanish tennis!

Three-time French Open champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the last Spanish woman to win the the title at Roland Garros (in 1998) before Muguruza, praised the new champion for her big-match moxie. Sanchez Vicario told Roland Garros staff, "She loves to play in the big arenas against the best players."

Now Muguruza is among the best players. She'll be No. 2 when the new WTA rankings are released on Monday. She heads into the grass-court season with semifinals points at Wimbledon to defend.

She's proven she can triumph over a legend. But it's how she handles the challengers that will determine whether she's truly ready to wear the crown when Queen Serena vacates the throne.

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett covers tennis for Bleacher Report, follow on Twitter @merlisa.


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