At the Puente Romano Resort in Marbella, where he trains in a climate similar to that found at the start of the season, Garbiñe Muguruza (Caracas, 27 years old) receives AS before warming up first thing in the morning under the command of his coach, Conchita Martínez. Smiling, the winner of two Grand Slams and former world number one talks about the preseason and her improvement in the last year and a half. From January 6 he will compete in Abu Dhabi before facing the Australian Open with enthusiasm, where this year he was a finalist.
How are you at this point in the preseason, so close to starting to compete?
It was good, because we worked well, but a bit of a roll because on December 12 we should have already left for Australia and the postponement has disrupted the planning. The time to leave was approaching and an email arrived that made us change things. We are not clear about everything yet, so it is a bit frustrating because of all this uncertainty.
An exciting year is presented if it is disputed in full, but uncertain about the future of the pandemic. How do you handle that dilemma?
If the tournaments scheduled for these first months are played, the start can be good. Whether or not there will be an audience is secondary, the important thing is that we can work and compete, not just train. But I think that until well into the year we will not be able to continue where we left off, with full stadiums, without masks … Hopefully it will be in summer, although I doubt it.
On that horizon are the Olympic Games. Do they motivate you?
The luck of tennis players is that we have a lot of tournaments and you don't have to prepare specifically for the Games. For us all the time it is like an Olympiad, with Grand Slams and major tournaments. Let's see if they dispute, but we will be prepared. It was a shock that they were not held last year. Hopefully they go ahead, because if not, I don't know what will happen with the Olympic cycle, at some point they would have to be suspended.
It has been in constant evolution and improvement for more than a year and it all started with that climb to Kilimanjaro. Seen from a distance, what did you learn from that experience?
It was an idea that had nothing to do with tennis actually. I like to get out of my comfort zone, be in difficult situations, and expand my ability to cope with moments when I am not comfortable. Having a hard time to increase my capacity for suffering. What can that help in tennis? It may be, but I wasn't thinking about it at the time. I like these things, I have new challenges in mind for later, but some I can't do them yet because I have to take care of my body and they involve risks. Physically he was able to help me start the season well, but the work was already good. Not by climbing a mountain I hit the parallel better. The results were not coming, but we were on the right track, with a change of team, a more successful job … The beginning was very good and the confinement was a barrier for me and for everyone. I wanted to keep playing because I was on a roll, but …
Speaking of challenges, what did you find in those days with the Civil Guard?
I had wanted to do it for years and there was no program for a civilian to participate in such activities (he did scuba diving, mountain and marine rescue, police interventions…). I didn't do exactly what they do, but I was able to be with each squad one day. I was surprised to see people who are dedicated to that, who go into situations of fear and panic. Talking with them enriched me, I took things out to apply them in my work.
Maybe those kinds of things have benefited him in terms of attitude, an aspect in which he has improved a lot during games. How did it come to that?
I face difficult moments with more serenity and calm. My blood does not boil even when I face it or maybe I hide it better. The experience of having gone through a bad time helped me and I have calmed down. Now I keep playing and change things to try to turn the games around or when I am in delicate moments.
Is it about mastering the anguish?
All tennis players deal with heartbreak, from junior to last day. There is always a reason for goals. It doesn't happen even when you've won things or been number one, when you think you're going to play without pressure. But you have to realize that you are not going to die for every thought. When you miss that, you calm down.
As for that team change, what have you found with the one led by Conchita Martínez as your coach?
It is a different approach to work. Before, perhaps I was stricter, although it worked for me at the time of making the leap from good player to top. There I did need rigidity, a harder and more intense structure that served me to a point where it stopped working and I already had that integrated. I needed a different kind of work, calmer. Now I lead it more than before because I have vision and experience, and I know how to manage things. As Conchita was a player, there are times when we don't have to talk, it's okay with a gesture or a look. When you have that connection that I had with her since I was little, the union is very easy, we never argue or have tense moments. We understand each other because she has already felt the same as me, she lived those moments.
How did your tennis progress?
In tennis, I apply what I learned with all the coaches, physical trainers, important games … But what this team has given me with Conchita is more perspective, less drama. Everything is easier because I have simplified everything a lot. Having a bad time helped me. What used to be a horror on the track for me is now less of a problem, nothing happens. I wear it better and I am more relaxed.
You can see that he wanted to have more voice in the process, more control …
He participated more with Conchita because I feel that it is time to put my voice more and with her we work a lot together. He imposes his way of doing things, like any coach, but he makes me participate in many things and I have the freedom to tell him that something does not suit me or that I really like it. It is a communication that was not usual in me, before I was not very talkative and now it even seems to me that I do it a lot, I am not silent …
How are the trainings going?
At a tactical and technical level this year there has not been a big change because we already started from a good base. We do not work a specific hit. Yes agility, movement, strength at the top, serve with more power. But there is not so much room for improvement anymore. Of course you can advance or incorporate things, but I'm not going to get to Australia with a different serve either. You have to be physically well, be resilient to have the feeling of being prepared. That gives you great confidence and even if you hit the ball badly, you think you're fine.
The atmosphere from the outside seems very good … Is that so?
Let's see, there are also bad days when you don't feel like training, but I try to convey good vibes because I get along well with my team. It is the reflection of how you are working and how I feel.
Has the pandemic and the consequent confinement made you feel better as a person?
I could have continued without COVID, I have not come out of this situation being a philosopher. What if it helped me as a person? Yes. So much so that it was worth it? No. It helped me to consider that there are other things besides tennis. In that area, it opened my eyes to do different things. But I haven't discovered anything. The introspection work he had done before.
Among the things he did during this time was to support Carla Suárez after learning that she had cancer …
I found out before the US Open and it was a shock because you never expect that someone so close, and also a young and successful athlete is going to happen something like this. I talked to her a lot and she told me what to do and what not to do. Then in Barcelona he came to see me train and we saw each other several times. I found her very well, very lively and with a lot of energy. I didn't know what to expect and it was an adrenaline rush for me. We all suffer from COVID, but this is a disease that affects her. It left a very good taste in my mouth to see how excited he is to recover and even play again. “I'll wait for you here for whatever you want,” I told him. If you want to come back, you have to help her so that from minute one because they throw a cable, they invite you to play in tournaments and whatever it takes.
Carla said that your idea was to participate in the Games before retiring, do you see yourself as a doubles partner of yours in Tokyo?
His idea was to be, although we do not know very well how to enter the picture. If it is, I will play with it for sure.
Let's leave tennis to talk about his other passions. Among them is food. Many people applaud that you do not hide that you eat everything and enjoy it because it transmits a positive value for the self-esteem of many young people. Develop this idea …
There are people who are very strict in food and less in other things. I am before games and in full competition, but the rest of the year I eat what I want. Neither a hamburger, but pasta, fish, potatoes … I enjoy choosing the moments well. I really like to eat and I am much more demanding for example at work. You have to loosen up somewhere. On a day-to-day basis, I want everyone to be ready, on time, everything is very hard, but when it comes to eating I am calmer. I like pastries, sweets, a paella. It helps me to have nice times. If I were at home eating oatmeal cups all day, my pot would run out and I would end up gobbling 37 donuts, 27 pizzas …
Is there any food that is prohibited?
There are two things that I rarely eat: fast food from franchises and soft drinks. I stopped taking them on their day and now it seems insufferable. I thought it was crap and I quit.
Another thing she loves is social media, a field in which she has become very creative. Do you do everything?
99% yes, although I need approvals or filters from time to time to avoid messing it up (laughs), but I like taking photos, videos, adventure and action themes. I do it through Instagram, which is the most visual network. It attracts me to handle it even if it takes me time because I also love to see how other people do it and it is a good way to get closer to my followers. During the pandemic I have been able to explore it poorly.
She even dared to be an interviewer with Ricky Rubio, for example. What did you think?
Well, it takes a research job to find out what you want to ask, it seems very simple, but it is not that easy. I had to think to see what interested me to know. That caught my attention and I liked it, maybe I'll do it again.
He also wrote in Vogue …
I like to write since I was little. They gave me the opportunity to explain my feelings during the pandemic and I got three pages at a time.
And now we will be doing her first steps as an actress in José Mota's New Year's Eve special …
I already went out once, but as an interviewee in a sketch about machismo and this time I had to act a little. I crash with him. I think it will be fun. I like it, but maybe I don't see doing that all the time.
Collaborate with an NGO, how did it start?
It's called Room to Read (it promotes change through education, especially for girls, in disadvantaged and low-income communities with reading as the epicenter) and what I liked is that with this organization you are sure that what is raised you know where it goes. The results are noticeable. I met its founder (John Wood) in California and he told me his story. He was the head of Microsoft in Asia and on a trip to Nepal he was so shocked that he gave up everything to create this organization. I told him I wanted to help him and it really works great. You see the result of everything collected. With a crowdfunding campaign we created a library in Cambodia and we are in the process of making another one. It is money that you can touch.
Going back to tennis, do you have any special goals or dreams at the professional level?
(He thinks about it) Special? Winning all four Grand Slams, an Olympic medal and playing Nadal mixed doubles at the Games. The most special thing is sharing the successes.
You sign up for all scheduled tournaments
If there are no discomforts or other circumstances that prevent it, Garbiñe Muguruza will start the course from January 6 in Abu Dhabi, in the first tournament of the new year. The Spaniard signed up for all those scheduled in the first two months of 2021. She will be in the WTA 500 in Melbourne (January 31 to February 6); then at the Australian Open (February 8 to 20) and would also play in the capital of the state of Victoria a WTA 250 (13 to 19) if she is eliminated soon in the Grand Slam. “The preseason is being good, because we are working well, but on December 12 we should have already left for Australia and the postponement upset the planning,” says Garbiñe. “We don't work a specific hit. Yes, agility, movement, strength at the top and serve with more power ”, he explains.
Have you already thought about what you will do after your career?
Let's see what fate brings me, but I'm not going to rest for long. I would like to be active, have a family, of course, and be a young mother. Being at home and having stability, because in this life our home is an airplane. And then I would inquire into all the things I do, to see what I like. There is nothing that drives me crazy to do it all the time, I want to do several different ones.
Do you see yourself combining motherhood with tennis like Serena Williams or Azarenka?
No, in my case it will not happen, although you can never say never again. I don't see myself playing again after having children. I would like that when that happens a new stage in my life opens.
What do you think of the renewal of the WTA and its approach to the ATP?
There had to be a pandemic for this conversation to start, but I think it will take a long time for the union to take place. It is good that the denomination of the category of the tournaments is unified. The process has started, but I think that when the current situation passes, everything will return to normal and the issue will be forgotten a bit.