Muguruza’s first Slam title denies Williams 22nd

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PARIS (AP) The day before the French Open final, Serena Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, was discussing whether his player would need to lift her level to beat Garbine Muguruza and collect a record-equaling 22nd Grand Slam title.

“I don’t know why everybody’s so impressed with Garbine,” Mouratoglou said. “Did she win a Slam ever?”

His comment, accompanied by a chuckle, was intended in a lighthearted way. About 24 hours later, his question required a new answer.

Muguruza won her first major trophy and prevented Williams yet again from collecting No. 22, outplaying the defending champion in a 7-5, 6-4 victory at Roland Garros on Saturday.

“She has a bright future, obviously,” said Williams, who at 34 is 12 years older than her Spanish opponent. “She knows how to play on the big stage and … clearly, she knows how to win Grand Slams.”

The fourth-seeded Muguruza used her big groundstrokes to keep No. 1 Williams off-balance and overcame signs of nerves in the form of nine double-faults. Most impressively, Muguruza broke Williams four times, including three in a row.

“I can’t explain with words what this day means to me,” Muguruza said.

This was her second major final; she lost to Williams at Wimbledon last year. But Muguruza has won her past two matches against Williams on the clay of Roland Garros, including in the second round in 2014. So dating to the start of the 2013 French Open, Williams is 0-2 in Paris against Muguruza, 21-0 against everyone else.

“I have grown up playing on clay,” Muguruza said during the trophy ceremony, “so for Spain, and for me, this is amazing.”

For Williams, whose timing was not exactly right much of the afternoon, Saturday’s loss postponed her pursuit of Steffi Graf’s Open-era mark of 22 major singles championships. Margaret Court holds the all-time record of 24.

Williams got No. 21 at Wimbledon in 2015, her fourth major title in a row. Since, she was beaten in the U.S. Open semifinals by Roberta Vinci, in the Australian Open final by Angelique Kerber, and now by Muguruza. It’s the first time in Williams’ career she lost back-to-back Slam finals.

“Garbine played unbelievable,” Williams said. “The only thing I can do is just keep trying.”

This year’s visit to Paris hardly could have started off more inauspiciously for Muguruza: She lost the first set she played, against 38th-ranked Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

But, oh, how Muguruza turned things around. She won her next 14 sets, displaying take-the-ball-early aggressiveness.

The final began under a slate ceiling of clouds, but at least there was none of the heavy rain that led to flooding in Paris and a temporary shutdown of the Louvre museum. The showers jumbled the tournament schedule, and Williams was in action a fourth straight day in the final.

She did not blame that or a problem with a leg muscle.

“I don’t think it’s like something that I would say: `Oh, that was the reason,”‘ Williams said.

Muguruza won the coin toss and let Williams serve first, a fascinating choice given that the American is widely regarded as the best server in the women’s game. And the decision seemed only more dubious as Muguruza put the ball on play on only one of the first six points Williams served.

And yet, it all wound up working out. And how.

Muguruza won all six points of 10 shots or more in the first set and, indeed, there was no junkballing on this day. Both women hit hard, trading bold forehands and backhands from the baseline that made it seem unfair to characterize nearly anything as an “unforced error.”

Williams finished with 39 forced errors, 18 more than Muguruza.

After a run of breaks gave Muguruza the first set and a lead in the second, Williams never recovered. She did, however, cast aside a quartet of match points for Muguruza at 5-3. There was nothing Williams could do about the fifth, which Muguruza converted with a delightful lob that landed right on the baseline.

Williams applauded. Maybe stunned by that shot, maybe stunned that she was now a Grand Slam champion, Muguruza turned toward her coach and other supporters in the stands with a blank expression. Soon, she was flat on her back, caking her dress and arms with the rust-colored clay she will never forget.

“Just goes to show you, you really have to play the big points well,” Williams said, “and I think she played the big points really well.”

That’s the sort of thing Williams’ foes usually say.

Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping tournaments like Federer

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MONACO (AP) For now, Rafael Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping any major tournaments the way Roger Federer has been sitting out the French Open.

The veterans are back at the top of world tennis, with Nadal needing to win the Monte Carlo Masters this week to avoid losing his top ranking once again to Federer in their seemingly eternal battle for tennis supremacy.

For the second consecutive season, the 36-year-old Federer is skipping the entire clay-court season in order to be at his best on grass.

After coming back from injury to win the Australian Open last year, Federer skipped the clay-court season, won Wimbledon, and retained his Melbourne crown to extend his record tally to 20 majors.

The Swiss star is keeping his aging body fresher by playing a bit less – avoiding Nadal on clay at Roland Garros or elsewhere – and it is working for him.

But Nadal still thinks he can play a full schedule.

“There (are) tournaments that I can’t imagine missing on purpose, because (they are) tournaments that I love to play,” Nadal said on Wednesday. “I don’t see myself missing Monte Carlo on purpose. I don’t see myself missing Wimbledon on purpose, or the U.S. Open, or Australian, or Rome. These kind of events, I don’t see missing (them).”

The 31-year-old Spaniard recently returned from a right hip injury which forced him to retire during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

With his 32nd birthday coming up on June 3 – during the French Open – the 16-time Grand Slam champion accepts he may think differently when he gets closer to Federer’s age.

“Of course, when you get older, you need to adjust a little bit more the efforts and the calendar. But for me (it) is difficult to say I don’t play, for example, grass, or I don’t play hard (courts),” Nadal said. “(It) is not in my plan, but I can’t say `never’ because I cannot predict what’s going to be in the future.”

Nadal is chasing an 11th title at both Monte Carlo and Roland Garros, which begins on May 27.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Thiem reaches third round at Monte Carlo

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MONACO — Dominic Thiem saved a match point and beat Andrey Rublev of Russia 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday.

Rublev was serving for the match at 5-4, 40-30 but hit a forehand narrowly wide. Fifth-seeded Thiem broke him with backhand pass down the line and held for 6-5.

The Austrian was 15-40 up on Rublev’s serve and clinched victory on his first match point, when Rublev double-faulted with a weak serve into the net.

“I was 10 centimeters from being out of the tournament,” a relieved Thiem said. “But I’m happy that I played two hours and 40 (minutes).”

Thiem has reached the French Open semifinals for the past two years. He next meets 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic or Borna Coric of Croatia, who play their second-round match on Wednesday.

“I’m looking forward to watching Djokovic and Coric in front of the TV, and then playing the winner on Thursday,” Thiem said.

In the second round later Tuesday, fourth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria faced Pierre-Hugues Herbert and seventh-seeded Lucas Pouille played Mischa Zverev.

In remaining first-round play, there were wins for Gilles Simon of France, Marco Cecchinato of Italy and Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany.