It hasn’t been an easy start to the year 2016 for Garbiñe Muguruza, but during the past month, the 2015 Wimbledon finalist has seen her level increase slowly but surely — pushing eventual champion Victoria Azarenka in a high-quality, straight-sets match in Miami and helping the Spanish team secure winning the Fed Cup tie against Italy over the weekend. On Tuesday, the No. 3 seed sat down with the press in Stuttgart to talk about her expectations and preparations for the clay season as well as her driving skills.
While she’s already set foot on European red clay this season, the conditions in Stuttgart couldn’t be more different for Garbiñe Muguruza than they were over 48 hours ago. On Saturday and Sunday, the World No. 4 helped the Spanish team clinch their Fed Cup World Group Playoff tie against Italy in Lleida on outdoor clay courts — winning both her singles rubber against Francesca Schiavone and Roberta Vinci.
“It was an amazing weekend,” Muguruza reflected. “We are so happy that we won; we’re in the World Group, and for sure we played Italy — it’s a great challenge on clay. So, you know we practiced a lot and for sure it’s very helpful now for me [for] the clay season. So, hopefully here I can feel the improvement.
“I always say Fed Cup is a very special week, because tennis is a very lonely sport, because you’re alone. That week, it brings all together and we make a team, which is weird. It makes me feel good, it makes me play great — the environment helps me, so I think that’s the recipe for me to play good.”
Even though the 22-year-old’s celebrated her biggest results so far on the green grass of Wimbledon and the hard courts in Asia, Muguruza’s real breakout moment came on the European dirt — as she took out Serena Williams at Roland Garros in 2014.
“Actually, I like all the surfaces. I don’t feel uncomfortable [on the clay.] It’s true that in clay, I spend a lot of hours when I was younger; I [grew] up on clay, so I kind of have this feeling inside of me every time I touch clay, like ‘Hey, this is my territory,'” the Spaniard said — cracking a smile. “I guess some people think that my style game is not…”not really matching,” but I think I play quite good on clay also.”
Still, the slippery, quick indoor conditions at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix require some adjustment from all the players — even those like Muguruza who call clay their home turf. Last year, Muguruza made her made draw debut in Stuttgart, taking the first set before falling to Simona Halep in the second round.
“It’s so weird to play on clay like that,” she said. “So, I think it’s really different and I’ll just have to adapt a little bit faster to the court. I think this clay is way more faster and the bounces are also more clean because it’s like a carpet.”
Muguruza’s year didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts after some injury issues and early losses at the beginning, but over the past few weeks, there was a notable surge in form, particularly in her last two events.
“I think this year has not been an easy year,” she said. “I guess everybody wants me to play like I played the last season, last year, which is normal – I also want to! It’s obvious that I played at a very high level so it’s actually hard to maintain that — but yeah, I have lots of good tournaments then bad tournaments. I’m kinda thinking every tournament that I go, I’m gonna play good here – if it happens it happens, but, you know, I guess I play next week at another one.”
Up and down results aside, Muguruza’s year began on a painful note when she was forced to retire after playing just one set in Brisbane in her first tournament of the year, as she suffered from plantar fasciitis — an ailment that’s already given her trouble during her run of strong results in Asia last October.
“Well, after Miami I’ve been practicing a lot on clay,” she said. “I think this [clay] season is important for me because I feel comfortable here. I’ve just been taking care of my plantar fascia (the inflammation of tissue gave Muguruza trouble) and my body after the beginning of the year, like no more issues — well normal issues, but that’s not a problem. So yeah, the important [thing] is I’ll be fit to run a lot!”
As Muguruza looks to find sure footing on the European clay, conversation naturally turned to local favorite Angelique Kerber — whom Muguruza could face if both reach the semifinals — and the ostensible effect her victory at the Australian Open might have had on the rest of the field.
“Well, I’ve been in situations where I’ve beaten a lot of players but they actually won amazing tournaments, so it makes you think that ‘Hey, Angelique won, I can also do it. I was very happy for her when she won the Australian Open because it realized, not only me but other players, but hey there’s more people than Serena that can go for the tournaments — so I think it’s great and well, hopefully, I can take her title here,” Muguruza said with a laugh.
“Angie is always a very calm person — every time I see her, she’s like, ‘Hi, how are you?’ I spoke to her a little bit after the Australian Open and she was so excited and I was like, ‘Wow!’ I saw her celebrate the last point and that was amazing. I think she’s just very nice in general.”
With her expectations high, and considering the nature of the main sponsor here in Stuttgart, Muguruza was also asked about her driving skills — and what to expect if she rolls down Centre Court in the Porsche this week.
“I’m a risky driver,” she laughed. “My mom is yelling at me like ‘Garbiñe, you’re gonna have an accident, I’m telling you,’ and I’m like, ‘Relax.’ I never got a speed ticket because I know where all the things [cameras] are. But yeah, I love cars because I have two brothers that are very into cars, so they made me [get into it, too]!”
It’s not just the Spaniard herself who’s very keen on doing well in Stuttgart, but her family’s also crossing their fingers particularly hard — mainly due to said lava-orange prize on four wheels.
“My father is putting pressure on me, and he’s like, ‘You’re gonna get that car for me!,'” Muguruza continued, with a chuckle. “[The car’s] a motivation, definitely, all the top players come here, y’know, excited about the cars, really. I’m not lying!”
Muguruza will kick off her Stuttgart campaign tomorrow evening, as she’ll face rising Hungarian Timea Babos.