20 intriguing questions for the year

The year 2018 will likely be the year of transition. How much transition and who will rise and fall are the key questions.

Will Roger Federer repeat his phenomenal 2017?   -  AFP

If 2017 was the year of the comeback, 2018 will likely be the year of transition. How much transition and who will rise and fall are the key questions.

There’s one sure thing this year. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal won’t sweep the Grand Slam events in 2018 as they did in 2017. They increased their major totals to 19 and 16, respectively, to pull further ahead of Novak Djokovic who is at 12. With Federer now an ancient 36 and often-injured Nadal an aging 31, these legends could be shoved off the stage by hungry Next Gen players like Alexander Zverev.

If the Next-Genners aren’t ready to make history, 30-something champions Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka could fill the vacuum. As could even a middle-generation contender like Grigor Dimitrov.

Let’s analyse the elite and the contenders to see who is more likely to reign this year.

Will Roger Federer repeat his phenomenal 2017, or settle for one Grand Slam title, or perhaps finally show his age and retire?

If this turns out to be The Mighty Fed’s last year, let’s hope he goes out with good health and respectable performances — or, as the media like to say, on his own terms.

A teenage Federer with scraggly, long hair first caught our attention when he upset seven-time champion Pete Sampras at the 2001 Wimbledon. He out-served and out-volleyed the greatest practitioner in history of that style. After winning his first major title at Wimbledon two years later, Federer decided to radically change his game and became an aggressive baseliner. That modus operandi merely produced 18 more Grand Slam crowns.

That’s the way it’s been for King Roger. He makes everything look easy — his pinpoint serves, his graceful groundstrokes, his athletic net play, his lightness afoot, and his magical touch shots. Only when an aching back or a sore knee hampered him in recent years has he appeared more mere mortal than genius. That he occasionally shed tears after a tough defeat only endeared him more to us. “Roger is the most popular and loved athlete that I’ve ever seen,” praised ESPN analyst Darren Cahill.

Age will finally catch up to Federer, just as it eventually did for all The Greatest Ones from Jordan to Ali to Tendulkar to Pele. King Roger won’t wear a major crown for the 20th time. But whatever happens, he will surely give us some Federesque moments. These parting moments of his protean ability will leave us enchanted and appreciative, just as they have for nearly 20 glorious years.

Will Novak Djokovic regain the form and intensity that helped him dominate the tour from January 2011 to June 2016 when he won titles at 11 of 22 majors and 24 of 50 Masters events?

After the Serbian superstar won his fourth straight major at the 2016 French Open, he looked so unstoppable that Pat Cash, in his The Times (UK) column, posed an intriguing question: “Is Djokovic the perfect player? Well in this era of the slow courts, he’s about as close as you can get.”

Then, suddenly and shockingly, “the perfect player” plunged from the top. During the next 18 months, he reached only one major final, losing it to Wawrinka, and often appeared listless. Only Djokovic knew how much honing his technical and physical skills since he was five and competing on the pro tour for 12 years had taken out of him — especially after winning an elusive Roland Garros title on his 12th try.

Just as Ivan Lendl became the ideal coach for Andy Murray because he had experienced the early-career frustrations the Brit endured, Andre Agassi, whom Djokovic hired last June, has the insight and empathy to help Djokovic. “When you see somebody who has accomplished so much, and then somehow to our eyes it overnight changes, it doesn’t have anything to do with tennis. It has to do with reason, inspiration, finding that thing that fuels you,” Agassi, who weathered a roller coaster career, explained in The Guardian (UK). “Your heart and mind is a bank account, you’ve got to give it more than you take out of it. When you cross that line, you file for bankruptcy.”

But burnout bankruptcy wasn’t Djokovic’s only problem. A sore elbow forced him to retire when down 7-6, 2-0 against Tomas Berdych in the 2017 Wimbledon quarterfinals, and, on July 26, he announced he would sit out the rest of the season.

With Agassi as a sage advisor and two recent hires, fulltime coach Radek Stepanek and analytics expert Craig O’Shannessy, the extroverted but also introspective Djokovic, now ranked No. 12, will embark on a crucial comeback in January. The Djoker says the joy of playing is back. If his elbow problems do not recur, he’ll snare at least one Grand Slam title and regain the No. 1 ranking this year.

Will Serbia's Novak Djokovic regain his form?   -  AFP

 

Can Grigor Dimitrov finally break through to win a major?

Five years ago, the authoritative French newspaper L’Equipe predicted Grigor Dimitrov would be No. 1 in its top 5 rankings for May 2018. It seemed plausible because “Baby Fed” — a nickname referring to his resemblance to Federer’s style and superb athleticism — possessed great potential.

But until Dimitrov, now 26, captured his biggest title at the ATP Finals in November, the handsome Bulgarian was known almost as much for romancing Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, and currently, pop star Nicole Scherzinger as for his modest tennis accomplishments.

In London, Dimitrov defeated Thiem, David Goffin, Pablo Carreno Busta, and Jack Sock to gain the final. Then he again conquered Goffin, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, in what ESPN analyst Darren Cahill called “the best final we’ve had here in years.”

Though Dimitrov didn’t notch a win over any Big 4 player or Wawrinka in 2017, he took 20 of his last 25 matches to reach a career-high, season-ending No. 3 ranking.

Dimitrov, a hard worker with a positive attitude and an improved backhand, should reach his first Grand Slam final. And, if he considerably improves his mediocre No. 17 Under Pressure Rating, he could win it.

Will Andy Murray, who edged Djokovic for the No. 1 ranking in 2016, rebound from a painful hip injury last season that sidelined him after losing to Sam Querrey in the Wimbledon quarterfinals?

Sad to say, Andy Boy doesn’t have good karma right now. Aside from that bum hip, which keeps him from running at full speed, he split from his super coach, Ivan Lendl, for the second time. If you believe in cause-and-effect relationships, as Murray does, this is a real cause for concern. He won his three Grand Slam titles and two Olympic gold medals with Lendl coaching him. And nada, zip, zero during the other eight years of his pro career.

And another thing, Matt Little, Murray’s fitness coach for the past ten years, recently spilled the beans in an interview on Scottish tennis coach Kris Soutar’s podcast. About his boss’s profane tirades and mean glares at his team during matches, Little confided, “Being in the players’ box is a white-knuckle ride. The stress in that scenario is just incredible. When Andy is taking the balls from the ball boy and at the change of ends, you’re not talking, it’s only eye contact. And my God, we have had a few times when that hasn’t happened and that’s caused some issues. You have to have a poker face when the player is looking at the box. We have had times in the box where I have snapped back at Andy because I had brought my own issues into the box. He has had a pop at the box, and I have had a pop back at him which is never a good idea.”

Little said a lot more, but you get the idea. With all these stressful vibes, Murray won’t go far this year at the majors, where the ability to handle a fortnight of pressure is paramount.

Is 2018 the year Nick Kyrgios will finally show he has the mental and physical toughness to win seven matches at a major?

The 22-year-old Australian’s confessions about not liking tennis, getting homesick on the road, not being in physical condition, not giving his total effort in some matches, and not practising much are wearing thin.

To make matters worse, No. 21-ranked Kyrgios hasn’t hired a full-time coach since 2015, though former top-tenner Sebastien Grosjean and Stepanek helped him on and off last year. This season, in part-time roles, Australian Davis captain Lleyton Hewitt, also a firebrand early in his playing career, and coach Jason Stoltenberg will try to keep Kyrygios motivated and on the straight and narrow.

“Kyrgios needs a coach, a physio[therapist], and a trainer — three things full-time,” said Brad Gilbert, who formerly coached Andre Agassi and Andy Murray. “Until he gets a full-time team to hold him accountable, he can’t make his immense talent come to fruition.”

Tennis’ No. 1 underachiever impressively defeated Nadal, slump-ridden Djokovic (twice), and Zverev (thrice) in 2017. But on the biggest stages, the majors, Kyrgios flopped with a horrendous 2-4 record. In fairness, he was plagued by assorted injuries. He’ll fare much better there this year. Winning a major, though, is clearly a bridge too far.

Will Rafael Nadal, whose chronic knee problems forced him to cancel Basel and withdraw at Bercy and the ATP Finals, duplicate 2017 when he grabbed two major titles and finished No. 1?

It’s a timeworn cliche that records are made to be broken. Maybe so. But some of Rafael Nadal’s clay-court records will never be broken. Not unless he breaks them.

Three uber records come to mind immediately because they all have the same stat. Beside Rafa’s most famous record, 10 French Open titles, he’s also earned 10 titles at Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

It’s not just his amassing of titles that is jaw-dropping. It’s the way Nadal does it. When he crushed Roberto Bautista-Agut 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 to reach the 2017 French Open quarterfinals, two-time French Open champ Jim Courier averred, “This guy is as close to unbeatable as a guy can be in a sport featuring two players.” Nadal’s pummelling of Wawrinka in the final prompted Eurosport’s Greg Rusedski to conclude: “This is by far the best tennis I have ever seen Rafa play.”

The muscular Spanish lefty won’t match his splendid 2017 which caught the tennis world and him by surprise. But he’ll win his 11th French Open and then do something that isn’t surprising: lie down on his back on his beloved clay to celebrate.

Is Alexander Zverev ready to become the first Next Gen champion at a major?

You can’t blame Alexander Zverev if he feels conflicted about his 2017 season. On the one hand, Sascha won five tournaments, including Masters 1000 events at Rome and Montreal, with final-round victories over Djokovic and Federer. That propelled his ranking to a career-high No. 4. On the other hand, he flunked his tests at the majors, going a miserable 6-4.

Another massive disappointment was his 9-9 match record in his last eight tournaments. “It’s been an awesome year. Still, the end of the year was absolute crap for me,” said the self-critical German. “If I played the whole year like I did [at the end] ... I don’t think I would have finished in the top 50.”

The 20-year-old power hitter is still a work in progress. Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 French Open champion, is now working on Zverev’s mental game so he can better cope with the pressure. The Big Z also has to exploit his 6’6” height and avoid long rallies. If Zverev plays closer to the baseline, rushes net more, improves his volley, and increases his stamina, he could reach a major final.

Which young players have the game and guts to shoot up in the rankings?

Keep an eye on Frances Tiafoe. This exuberant and fearless, 19-year-old American extended Federer to five sets at the U.S. Open. “Tiafoe is a tremendous athlete who moves well and hits a big ball,” raves 1980s superstar John McEnroe. His best win came over then-No. 7 Zverev at Cincinnati.

Denis Shapovalov’s shocking 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 upset over Nadal at Montreal, coming after knocking out Juan Martin del Potro, made the 18-year-old Canadian lefty the youngest Masters 1000 quarter-finalist since 1990. Importantly, Shapovalov, an aggressive shotmaker, followed up those big wins by whipping Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Flushing Meadows where he reached the fourth round.

Rapidly improving, 6’4” Stefanos Tsitsipas enjoyed a breakthrough tournament in October at Antwerp. There the Greek, just turned 19 years old, used his power game to upset No. 33 Pablo Cuevas, No. 51 Ivo Karlovic, and No. 10 David Goffin to make the semis.

Who are the best of the rest?

Stan Wawrinka split with Magnus Norman, the savvy, confidence-building coach who guided the late-blooming Swiss to three major titles. The bullish “Stanimal,” now 32, may not have another major in him, though it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he reached a major final, as he did at the 2017 French Open.

Dominic Thiem, a gentlemanly Austrian whose concussive topspin groundstrokes resemble those of Wawrinka, excels on clay. If neither Nadal or Djokovic win Roland Garros, the 24-year-old Thiem should.

A darkhorse pick is Karen Kachanov. The 6’6” Russian with bludgeoning groundstrokes and a potent serve is often compared to countryman and former No. 1 Marat Safin. If Kachanov, 21, improves his poor 17-21 tiebreaker record from last year, he should crack the top 10. “Tennis is about weapons, and Kachanov has the weapons,” pointed out Mark Knowles, a Tennis Channel analyst and former doubles No. 1.

Will players serve and volley more often on fast surfaces?

Roger Federer did something active champions rarely do: he gave his competition excellent unsolicited advice about how they can play better. After winning a record eighth Wimbledon title, while serving and volleying 16 percent of the time, he generously (foolishly?) said: “They can choose not to play that way, too, if the coach has taught them to play differently. I have played almost every player here who wouldn’t serve and volley. It’s frightening to me, to see this at this level. I look at the stats and go into whichever round it is and see that the guy I’m going to face is playing [only] 2 percent of serve and volley throughout the championships. I’m going, ‘OK, I know he’s not going to serve and volley,’ which is great.

“Then we are talking about grass, it was playing fast this week [compared with the first week],” Federer continued. “I wish that we would see more players taking chances up at the net because good things do happen there. You want to be there and have to spend some time up there to feel confident and good there.”

Good things do happen at the net. At the 2017 Wimbledon, the men served and volleyed just 7% of all service points (excluding double faults), but the server won an excellent 69% of those points. The women, who served and volleyed a minuscule 1% of all service points (excluding double faults), were almost as successful, winning 68% of those points.

The evidence is incontrovertible that serving and volleying is a smart, effective tactic. It’s also fun to play and entertaining to watch. Unfortunately, it’s doubtful Federer’s competitors have the ambition and self-confidence to take his advice.

Women

A new book, Our Time Has Come, argues that India is on the threshold of becoming a global power. And similarly, several female tennis athletes are making a case that their time to become a power on the WTA Tour has come. Last year, Jelena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens captured their first Grand Slam titles and Madison Keys made her first major final, while Garbine Muguruza achieved her first season-ending No. 1 ranking.

Will these young stars repeat, or improve upon, their career years? Has the time come for others to become tennis powers, too? And will they stop 36-year-old Serena Williams’ quest to equal, or even eclipse, the Holy Grail of tennis — Margaret Court’s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles? And what about Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, and Petra Kvitova, all multiple Slam champions, making comebacks?

The last five majors have produced nine different finalists. Let’s find out who are most likely to break out of this parity pack in 2018.

Will hyper-competitive Serena Williams, the 21st century queen of tennis, restore order in Tennis Nation this year?

“I used to think I’d want to retire when I have kids, but no. I’m definitely coming back,” Serena toldVogue magazine last August. “Walking out there and hearing the crowd, it may seem like nothing. But there’s no better feeling in the world.”

To start her comeback, Serena, now a wife and mother, could have found no more a hospitable venue than the Australian Open, nicknamed “the friendly Slam.” Not only has she won seven of her 23 major titles Down Under, including last year, but one of her most dramatic and courageous triumphs was fashioned there in 2010. With her right thigh, left knee, and wrist wrapped and her ankle iffy, Serena, grimacing and hobbling, battled past the formidable Justine Henin in a three-set final.

And nearly a year ago, after whipping her sister Venus 6-4, 6-4 in the Australian Open final, the eight-weeks-pregnant Serena crowed, “I’m still in the prime of my career.”

But she has withdrawn this year, saying she is not yet ready for competitive tennis.

Returning after the longest break (11 months) from competition in her career, Serena, now 36, faces her biggest challenge. But she’ll also be fired up with her biggest motivation: the Holy Grail of tennis, which is Court’s record. Court believes Serena will eclipse it. “I don’t lose any sleep over her chasing my records,” says Court. “I don’t think anybody will break the 64 (her career record for combined singles and doubles major titles), but the 24 will probably go.”

My crystal ball says Serena will tie it but not break it this year.

Jelena Ostapenko... is the French Open champion the real deal?   -  AFP

 

Will Maria Sharapova, who returned last April after a 15-month suspension for a drug violation, regain the form that brought her five Grand Slam titles in 10 finals?

The 30-year-old Russian loves competition and the roar of the crowd as much as anyone, including Serena. After upsetting second-seeded Simona Halep 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in a blockbuster U.S. Open first-rounder, Sharapova collapsed on the court in uninhibited ecstasy. “Maria showed more emotion after winning this match than she did after winning any of her Slams,” said all-time great Martina Navratilova. “It was an amazing power performance. She had 60 winners, compared to only 15 for Halep. She also moved really well.”

Sharapova eventually lost to the clever, versatile Anastasija Sevastova in a three-set quarterfinal. But a comeback that was hampered by nagging summer injuries got the fillip it needed. “It was very encouraging for Maria to beat Halep,” noted 1980s doubles champion Pam Shriver. “All you need when you’re making a comeback is to have some crumbs to believe you can get back where you once were.”

If Sharapova avoids injuries and adds a bit of variety — angles, topspin, or touch shots — to her power game, she can win another major. Remember, she won her last two majors at the French Open (2012 and 2014) on her worst surface. And if you’re into numerology, Sharapova has captured all her Grand Slam titles in even-numbered years.

What about No. 1 Simona Halep and No. 3 Caroline Wozniacki, super-steady veterans who are still looking for their first Grand Slam trophy?

As they say in New York City, “Fuhggedaboutit!” It’s not gonna happen. With rare exceptions, might makes right in women’s tennis this century. Navratilova put it best after Halep hit only 15 winners in her U.S. Open loss to Sharapova: “Defence doesn’t win Slams.”

Halep, one of the fastest and most tireless women, boasts stylish strokes. But she lacks a dominating shot, tactical acumen, finesse, and decisive volleys. Twice the 5’6” Romanian has lost three-set French Open finals. As Navratilova said, “She hasn’t come through in the big moments.”

Wozniacki has added power to her serve and improved her forehand, but at crunch time, she still reverts to her comfort zone of cautious consistency.

A flawed ranking system gave Halep and Wozniacki higher rankings than their records deserve. On the court, though, they are eminently beatable, especially by power players.

Will Petra Kvitova’s comeback accelerate and culminate in a Grand Slam title?

In a year filled with surprising comebacks, no one came back from greater adversity than Petra Kvitova. And no comeback provided such a feel-good story as hers. Just six months after being severely stabbed in her playing hand by a home intruder, the popular 27-year-old Czech won the Birmingham tournament on grass, her favourite surface.

Though Kvitova still lacked feeling in one finger, she notched wins over Muguruza and Caroline Garcia at the U.S. Open before losing a terrific quarterfinal slugfest against Venus Williams.

“Playing on the grass at Wimbledon [where she reached the second round] and getting a good result in the U.S. Open was very important for me mentally, and for my confidence,” Kvitova told The Guardian (UK). “This year has been a rollercoaster. The beginning wasn’t very nice, so I’m really glad that it’s over. Now I can look at everything positively again.”

That positive attitude and her all-court lefty power game could take her improbable and inspiring comeback to the pinnacle: a third Wimbledon crown.

Will U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens and her pal, runner-up Madison Keys, build on their Flushing Meadows achievements?

Not in 2018. Their surprising Flushing Meadows feats were certainly not flukes. Stephens rates among the best athletes on the tour, while Keys hits groundstrokes that often average more than 80 miles per hour.

But the likeable African Americans lack consistency — Stephens during the long season and Keys during matches. Stephens lost all six matches she played after the U.S. Open, four against opponents ranked outside the top 50. Keys lucked out with an easy U.S. Open draw, facing only one top-15 player, No. 4 Elina Svitolina.

Is French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko the real deal?

For sure. With a killer instinct belied by her baby face, the unseeded, 20-year-old Latvian ambushed the field with an astounding 299 winners to seize her first major title. After her tour de force on Roland Garros clay, her least favourite surface, she made the quarterfinals on Wimbledon grass. Ostapenko then proved she can win on hard courts, too. Though she lost in the U.S. Open third round, she then won Seoul, advanced to the semis at Wuhan and Beijing where she upset No. 1 Muguruza, and then defeated No. 3 Karolina Pliskova at the ATP Finals.

Ostapenko’s go-for-broke style appears reckless when she’s missing, matchless when she’s on, and fearless even when she’s losing. Her gutsy comeback from a 6-4, 3-0 deficit against Halep in the French final proved that. Just as important, her staying power helped her win 18 of her last 22 matches going three sets.

Ostapenko, an accomplished ballroom dancer, also displays fancy footwork. But the “WTA Most Improved Player of the Year” must improve her erratic serve. Ostapenko committed an ungodly 380 double faults and won only 61.4% of service games, by far the lowest of any top 20 player. She offset that serving liability by winning 46.4% of her return games, which ranked No. 1 on the tour.

All things considered, reaching a Grand Slam final on any surface in 2018 is well within the ambitious Ostapenko’s grasp.

Will venerable Venus Williams keep rising?

If attitude alone won matches, Venus Williams would rank No. 1 every year. How can you not be inspired by Venus, who, at age 37 and suffering from Sjogren’s syndrome, still finished No. 5? In her best year since 2008, she made the final of the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the ATP Finals.

Why should a generation gap matter to ageless Venus? After she ousted 20-year-old Ostapenko at Wimbledon, Venus declared, “I feel quite capable, to be honest, and powerful. So whatever age that is, as long as I feel like that, I know I can contend for titles every time.”

The best explanation for her excellence and longevity is her sheer love of tennis. “Of course, I love competition,” Venus told Humanity magazine. “I think that’s the best part, but also I love the physicality of it. I love putting in the work, and then when you go out and get the results, I think that’s probably the best part.”

Will Garbine Muguruza of Spain win a Grand Slam title for the tird straight year?   -  AP

 

Venus is still getting the results. Unquestionably, she’s still quite capable and powerful. Even so, with Serena, Sharapova, Azarenka, and Kvitova back in the mix all year, Venus will be hard-pressed to match her amazing 2017.

Who will be the comeback player of 2018?

Belinda Bencic not only will return to the top 10, but she’ll also contend strongly at the majors. After ranking a career-high No. 7 in February 2016, the Swiss, then 18 years old, was sidelined for two months with a lower back injury. Hard luck struck again in 2017. A left wrist injury requiring surgery forced her to miss five months of the competition she loves.

Until these detours, the precocious Bencic’s career trajectory was straight and fast toward the top. Taught by super coach Melanie Molitor, the mother of versatile Hall of Famer Martina Hingis, she became the 2013 ITF World Junior Champion. In 2014, Bencic made the U.S. Open quarterfinals, the youngest at 17 to do so since Hingis won the title in 1997. And at the 2015 Canadian Open, she upset Serena.

Bencic, who boasts rock-solid and powerful groundstrokes and a better serve than Hingis, resumed her winning ways on the ITF circuit last September. She captured two WTA 125K Series level and two ITF Circuit titles to catapult her ranking from No. 318 to No. 74.

The Swiss Miss will return to the main tour with good health, with a zest to become the best, with a new coach (Iain Hughes), and with a mixed doubles partner named Federer at her first event, the Hopman Cup. Bencic will bounce back quickly at the Australian Open and accelerate fast from there.

Which young players should go far at the majors, Premier Mandatory, and Premier 5 events?

Elina Svitolina’s steady climb in the rankings the last five years — 40, 29, 19, 14, and 6 — should continue. The 23-year-old from Ukraine went 8-1 against top 5-ranked opponents and led the tour with five titles in 2017. Svitolina’s haul included Premier 5 titles at Rome, where she defeated Karolina Pliskova, Muguruza, and Halep, and at Toronto, where she beat Venus, Muguruza, Halep, and Wozniacki. In the French Open quarterfinals, she blew a match point and a 6-3, 5-1 lead and lost 3-6, 7-6, 6-0 to Halep. She will learn from that bitter disappointment.

“Svitolina’s shot selection is excellent,” noted all-time great Martina Navratilova. “She knows when to pull the trigger. She really understands the game. Also, her shots, especially her forehand, have more power now. Her biggest improvement is mental. She used to get upset when things went wrong. Now she’s holding it together.”

Daria Kasatkina, a 20-year-old Russian ranked No. 24, will break into the top 10. “She’s athletic, she’s competitive, she’s feisty, she’s got a nice all-round game,” Navratilova told the WTA’s website. “So for her, it’s about playing more by instinct rather than trying to think out there.”

Kasatkina displayed impressive potential in 2017. She captured her first Premier title in Charleston and notched victories over Ostapenko (twice), former No. 1 Angelique Kerber (twice), and Halep.

Marketa Vondrousova is another Eastern European name to remember. The fast-rising Czech lefthander earned two distinctions when she captured the Biel Ladies Open final in only her second WTA tournament. At 17 and nine months old, Vondrousova became 2017’s youngest title winner by a margin of more than two years; and ranked just No. 233, she was by far the lowest-ranked titlist of the year.

Will Muguruza win a Grand Slam title for the third straight year?

Yes, and it will most likely come on hard courts, her favourite surface. Muguruza upset Serena in the 2016 French Open final on clay and overpowered Venus in the 2017 Wimbledon final on grass. That feat made her the only player to triumph over both Williams sisters in Grand Slam finals.

The Wimbledon title was especially noteworthy because two years ago, the 6’ Spaniard admitted she didn’t even like to play on grass. “Muguruza has everything it takes,” Chris Evert, an 18-time major singles titlist, said in a WTA podcast. “You look at her game and her physique and her power and her quickness for her height. She has all the weapons.”

Much of the once-moody, 24-year-old Muguruza’s evolution is explained by learning to control her emotions. “I’m calmer. I’m proud of how I’m acting on the court, putting my best effort on the court, trying to be positive,” she confided. “I’m happy with that. I don’t analyse that much anymore. I try to be more simple. I’m learning a lot over time. Before, when you’re younger, everything is more emotional. I’m just trying to learn from that, just be more relaxed.”

With this last piece firmly in the puzzle, the only question is whether Muguruza will evolve from a star into a superstar.