Australian Open 2020: Re-united with coach Conchita Martinez, mercurial Garbine Muguruza makes winning return in Melbourne

Anuradha Santhanam

It hasn't been an easy couple of years for Garbine Muguruza. Once the World No 1 and winner of two Grand Slams in two years, the Venezuelan-Spanish ace has not been able to replicate, or even come close to that success again for some time. After winning her debut Grand Slam in 2016 at Roland Garros and following it up with high finishes at subsequent Grand Slams and a win the following year at Wimbledon, it seemed as though Muguruza was riding on a high. Her top ranking in 2017 meant she went into 2018 top-seeded at the year-opening Brisbane tournament, but struggled with injury, and subsequently crashed out in Round 2 of the 2018 Australian Open, where her highest finish was a quarter-final in 2017.

Perhaps some of Muguruza's most significant success came in working with the Spanish former World No 1 Conchita Martinez in 2017, when the Spanish Davis Cup captain coached her to the title.

One might argue that Muguruza's star had been on the ascendency since her Grand Slam wins, but constant injuries and setbacks have derailed what have been promising starts to seasons that the Spaniard has begun well, that have petered out. And it is these career oscillations that, in 2017, Martinez was able to even out. After her first stint with Martinez, Muguruza was able to win her Wimbledon title and hit No 1, leaving no doubt as to the potential success of any future partnership. Off that win came strong finishes at Doha and Dubai, cementing the older Spaniard's influence on her younger protege.

Ups and downs have been quite the trademark of Garbine Muguruza's career, and indeed, even in the year that she won her debut Grand Slam, the Spaniard struggled for results €" and most importantly, for the stability she needs. Even going into 2016, Muguruza sat out the hard-court opener at Brisbane with plantar fasciitis, after which she suffered a less than stellar season on hard courts before pulling off what can only be described as a stunning upturn during on clay. And that was where the young Spanish ace's lack of consistency returned, with Muguruza not winning another title all year; she would then finish as the World No 7, having hit a high of World No 2 in the wake of her Grand Slam victory.

Although 2017 saw Muguruza win her second Grand Slam €" Wimbledon, and even hit World No 1, the season was not as consistent as she perhaps would have liked it to have been, and that is likely one of the big goals the two-time Grand Slam winner will have had going into 2019: consistency. She plays for the big matches and the great occasions, but can falter outside them. Her 2018 started with a couple of big jolts and early shocks, and between necessity and practicality, perhaps, it was her old coach Conchita Martinez €" the former World No 1 and the coach of the Spanish Davis Cup team, herself an Australian Open finalist, that Muguruza turned to for help last year. 2018 saw Martinez once again enlisted to Team Muguruza, a move that showed immediate results; the then-25-year old immediately made the finals of the Qatar Open, and had successes in the few remaining tournaments the pair remained a team.

Muguruza's recent results have meant she is now at 32 in the women's singles rankings, with early exits in a number of tournaments. Part of this may also be attributed to the 26-year-old's own attitude; in an interview, she once said she absorbed energy from bigger stages. For her, then, and for Martinez, the challenge lies in translating that across the board to Premier tournaments and non slams and as a result, giving Muguruza the consistency she needs to keep her game at an even keel.

Since the return of Martinez, it has appeared to many that Muguruza's big-game aggression €" so often mirrored in the coach's own off-court reactions, has been restored somewhat.

Her familiarity with ups and downs was far from over even during her Australian Open match on Tuesday against American Shelby Rogers, a familiar foe whom she faced en route her French Open title. Rogers, who entered the tournament as a qualifier, made short work of Muguruza in set 1, bageling her as Muguruza's unforced error count began to mount.

Following her medical time out €" and some incessant encouragement from the ebullient Conchita Martinez, however, Muguruza was able not only to craft a way back, but return the favour to Rogers with a breadstick and a bagel, taking utter control of the rallies in the third set.

The past few years have not been easy on Muguruza consistency wise €" or in fact, injury-wise. Having struggled in the past with plantar fasciitis, she has also had to deal with back injuries, foot injuries, and more. Ahead of Hobart this year, where she had been the second seed, Muguruza was forced to withdraw from the tournament with a viral illness that had, at the time, threatened to derail her Australian Open campaign.

But on court today, after that first set bagel, we saw a far from beleaguered Muguruza. This was a former Grand Slam champion ready to give it her all and then some, and with Martinez cheering on from the stands, Muguruza, still showing some signs of the viral that put her out of commission last week and sounding under the weather even in interviews, pulled out every stop and then some, taking complete control of the rallies in sets 2 and 3. Helped along with some errors from Shelby Rogers and newfound energy from Martinez, Muguruza lived up to the quote in her Twitter bio, which reads "Life is too big to play small."

Last year following lacklustre results at Wimbledon, Muguruza announced a split with her long-term coach, Sam Sumyk. The coming of Conchita Martinez €" who has not only led her to one slam title but an upswing in her rankings, certainly bodes well for the two-time Grand Slam champion, who no doubt has the chops €" but just needs her aggression channelled to achieve those results. And who better to lead her there than Conchita Martinez?

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