Wimbledon | Haddad Maia mugs Muguruza

It was a dismal day for the 2017 Ladies Champion, Garbiñe Muguruza, who was dismissed in the first round in straight sets by Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia, a qualifier for The Championships.

Facing qualifiers who have survived the rigours of the qualifying tournament on the grass at Roehampton can be a tough ask because they are tuned in and have nothing to lose.

Nevertheless, the popular Spaniard looked a shadow of her former self.

Just two years ago, a No14 seeded Muguruza was beaming on Centre Court as she lifted the Venus Rosewater dish, celebrating her title triumph at Wimbledon.

It was her second Grand Slam success, following her victory at Roland-Garros in 2016, and her second final appearance in three years at the All England Club.

The Spaniard was one of just 6 women in the draw to have lifted the Wimbledon singles trophy but came into the Championships this year flying well under the radar  and ranked No 27 in the world – her worst ranking in five years.

After losing to Sloane Stephens in the Roland-Garros fourth round last month, the 25-year-old Muguruza pulled out of Birmingham with a left leg injury, making this the first time she enters Wimbledon without playing a grass court event in the build-up, and it showed.

“We’re happy to be here, happy to compete. Probably feeling like it’s time to start; whatever the outcome is. I think we’ve been practising well. I think Garbiñe is probably hitting the ball really well, now we’ve got to go compete,” Muguruza’s coach Sam Sumyk told wimbledon.com.

Muguruza landed in the loaded top quarter of the draw that is being described as the ‘group of death’, and is home to the likes of World No 1 Ashleigh Barty, 7-time winner Serena Williams, defending champion Angelique Kerber, last year’s semi-finalist Julia Goerges, and 5-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova.

While any of these were likely winners over the Spaniard, a lowly qualifier ranked at No 121 didn’t come into the equation.

Her opener against the Brazilian should have been a stepping stone to a third round encounter with Barty.

Instead, Barty’s path became easier.

With just one semi-final showing standing out as her best result in her last 7 Grand Slams, Muguruza’s search for the kind of form that saw her reach the No1 ranking spot in September 2017 continues.

Haddad Maia outhit the former champion in an hour and 30 minutes.

With 20 winners apiece, and 26 unforced errors from Haddad Maia to Muguruza’s 28, the contest would be narrowly decided by the former’s superior play on big points as she handed the former World No 1 her first opening-round loss at a major since falling to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni at the 2014 US Open.

This time last year, Haddad Maia was dealing with yet another injury setback in a career that, though still young, has had more than its fair share of them so far.

This time, it was a back issue that necessitated surgery, and the Brazilian missed 3 months mid-season, including the 2 summer Slams.

Consequently, having broken into the Top 100 the previous year, her ranking dipped from a career high of World No 58 in February to World No 235 in October.

However, a 28-14 win-loss record this year has seen the 23-year-old rise back to World No121, and she caught Muguruza coming into the match under a physical cloud.

Nonetheless, Muguruza sprinted out of the blocks, snatching 8 of the first 9 points as Haddad Maia was called for a vocal hindrance in the very first game to go down break points, swiftly taken by the 2017 champion with a running forehand pass.

Once Haddad Maia settled, she was able to show off the brutally big hitting that had impressed in qualifying last week, as well as judicious all-court touches that enabled her to switch up her line of attack.

A drop-shot return and an emphatic smash paved the way to the break back, before Haddad Maia toughed out a mid-set four-deuce service hold to go up 4-3 – surviving one break point and closing it out with back-to-back aces.

Three games later, an ill-timed Muguruza double fault brought up set point for the World No 121, and she seized her moment with relish, running the Spaniard from side to side with sweetly struck power until the former World No 1 could only flick a forehand into the net.

Although Haddad Maia’s all-or-nothing approach to her serve resulted in 8 double faults, she was able to balance them with 7 aces.

The first 6 games of the second set would pass with neither player facing a break point, but the most crucial passage of play would find both spurning chances, making it a compelling psychological as well as physical test.

Muguruza missed two break points at 3-3, the second missing an open court with a wild drive volley over the baseline, and snatched a 0-40 lead from Haddad Maia by reeling off 5 straight points with her best sequence of hitting in the match.

The lower-ranked player put those missed opportunities behind her the more effectively.

With the baseline hitting getting even bigger and bolder from both, Haddad Maia held firm to come through another tight hold before, serving to stay in the match, Muguruza oscillated between audacious winners and unfortunate errors.

As in the first set, the two-time Grand Slam champion’s serve would let her down at the worst moments: 2 more double faults, including on match point, ended her Wimbledon campaign at the first hurdle for the first time since 2014.

For Haddad Maia, though, it was a statement that, despite all the setbacks, she has the talent to be a regular fixture on this stage.

The only other seed to tumble on Tuesday afternoon was the 32nd Lesia Tsurenko from the Ukraine, who lost to Barbora Strycova from the Czech Republic, 6-3 6-2.

Meanwhile, last year’s champion AngeliqueKerber beat Tatjana Maria in straight sets to secure her spot in the second round, but needed to call on all her cunning and experience to navigate her way, 6-4 6-3, through an awkward first-round encounter with her German compatriot.

The 3-times Grand Slam champion has enjoyed mixed fortunes since beating Serena Williams in the final last year, dropping to 5th in the standings, and went out in the first round of the French Open last month.

It was with some nervous tension that she stepped out on Centre Court, opening the action on the second day of the tournament in traditional fashion as the women’s champion.

Maria’s combination of slice and guile, rare on a circuit dominated by big-hitting power players, frustrated Kerber, especially in the first set.

“She’s playing tricky on grass,” Kerber said straight after leaving the court.

“I was hoping to stay in the match because you never know what’s going to happen with her. She really plays tricky with the slice on both sides.”

Ash Barty’s express-train run to the top of the women’s game shows no sign of slowing as the World No 1 dispatched China’s Zheng Saisai, 6-4 6-2, to reach the second round.

The Australian, who followed up her French Open triumph last month by winning in Birmingham, sealed a 13th straight win in a brisk hour and 16 minutes, battling through the first set before easing through the second.

Barty has never been past the third round at Wimbledon, but her game is well-suited to the slick grass courts and, having dragged herself to the summit of women’s tennis, she looks well-placed to challenge for a second Grand Slam title.

While some might feel the weight of expectation coming into a Grand Slam as top seed, it seems Barty is relishing the experience.

“It feels incredible. It feels a bit bizarre actually but I’m trying to go about my business in the same way as I always have done,” she said.

“You have to enjoy every minute when you’re playing at this beautiful tournament.”

Ex-US Open champion Sloane Stephens won her first match at the All England Club since 2016, beating Timea Bacsinszky 6-2 6-4 on Court 2.



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