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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Garbine Muguruza

Garbiñe Muguruza unleashed a seven-game surge high-stepping into the US Open second round with a 6-4, 6-4 sweep of Nao Hibino.

Photo credit: @USOpen

No dress rehearsal before returning to the Grand Slam stage—and a deep desire to honor her cancer-stricken friend—left Garbiñe Muguruza fretful before her first match in six months.

Unsettled at the outset, Muguruza hit her mark unleashing a seven-game surge high-stepping into the US Open second round with a 6-4, 6-4 sweep of Nao Hibino.

More: Osaka Feeling Better After Round One

Showing no signs of the left ankle injury that sidelined her for last week’s Western & Southern Open, Muguruza won 24 of 29 first-serve points raising her record to 17-4 this season.

“I was a little bit anxious because I didn’t play in six months and I didn’t have a chance to play the US Open Series to get ready for here,” Muguruza told Andrew Krasny afterward. “I’m happy with my performance. I was expecting a tough match and it was.”

Emotionally, it was a difficult day as well.

Before Muguruza stepped on court, her good friend and former doubles partner, Carla Suárez Navarro announced she’s been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and will undergo six months of chemotherapy. Muguruza, who learned the news a few days ago, dedicated her victory to her friend in a show of support.

"When we spoke a few days ago when she gave me the news, I was, I think, shocked, because I was expecting to see her in this tournament," Muguruza said. "You know, she's such a nice woman, so sweet, so kind, so humble. When these things happen to these good people, I feel, like, so sad about it.

"So I know she was watching my match, and we talked a little bit. I, for sure, will dedicate this win to her, because I want her to feel that we are behind her, that I am behind her, and I will go and see her at some point when it is fine. For me, it's very special. We shared a decade of emotions and everything. It's a shock for me, somebody so close that is going through this." 

On a dreary, drizzly morning with the roof over Louis Armstrong Stadium closed, the 25-year-old Japanese was sharper earlier winning four of the first five games to start.

The 78th-ranked Hibino won seven straight points to start streaking out to a 3-0 lead as Muguruza’s first-serve eluded her. The Australian Open finalist squeezed a backhand down the line off the sidelined. That shot helped her break the shutout in the fourth game.

The speedy Hibino struck with greater accuracy and competed with more clarity running down a drop shot and blocking back an angled reply holding at love for 4-1.

“I mean, it's hard also to get the body ready after such a long break," Muguruza said. "You have to handle new things and, you know, feel good to go and play. It's a very special Grand Slam this year without crowd. They are making a great effort to make it happen, so I'm happy to participate.

"Hopefully it's not going to be like this forever. You know, I was happy to go on the court. Of course, you know, the lack of matches, it's there. I had a slow start."

The 10th-seeded Muguruza started to find her groove in the sixth game running down a net-cord shot and shoveling a drop-shot winner breaking back for 3-4. Muguruza won 12 of 15 points evening matters after eight games as coach Conchita Martinez, who spent much of the first set leaning forward in her seat, exhaled visibly seeing her charge looking much more comfortable and confident.

By then the former world No. 1 was ripping her groundstrokes with menacing intent and driving Hibino well behind the baseline with her depth. Muguruza dropped to a squat after firing a forehand winner breaking for her fourth straight game to serve for the set.

A resolute Muguruza completed the role reversal rebounding from a 1-4 deficit to build a one-set lead after 41 minutes. Though she served just 47 percent in the set, Muguruza hit four more winners—12 to 8—and converted both of her break points.

The woman in the white long-sleeve t-shirt darted her signature shot, the backhand down the line, into the corner breaking for her sixth straight game to start the second set.

Finally, Hibino stopped her free-fall at seven straight games holding in the third game of the second set.

Midway through the second set, Hibino held off double break points battling through the longest game of the match holding for 3-4.

Tennis Express

On her second match point, Muguruza threw down a smash closing in 89 minutes.

Muguruza will play either Tsvetana Pironkova or Liudmila Samsonova for a spot in the third round.

Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, who won the 1994 US Open and was upset by Mary Joe Fernandez the next year, remains the lone Spanish woman to win the US Open.

Contesting her 30th career major, Muguruza has reached quarterfinals or better in all five tournaments she’s played this season, including her inspired run to the Australian Open final in January where she lost to Sofia Kenin.

Now, the challenge for Muguruza is breaking through in Flushing Meadows—the lone Slam where she’s failed to surpass the round of 16 in eight prior appearances.

Still, the faster Flushing Meadows track should suit Muguruza’s flat strikes and skill playing aggressive baseline tennis. Muguruza is looking forward to better things this month.

“I’m proud to be a part of this US Open,” Muguruza said. “Because I think it’s gonna be pretty special.”


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