Tennis: Young Spaniard Muguruza, in town for WTA Finals, tipped to light up tennis

Seeded just behind Simona Halep for the year-end gala, Spaniard Garbine Muguruza (left), this year's losing Wimbledon finalist, sees herself getting closer to the top.
Seeded just behind Simona Halep for the year-end gala, Spaniard Garbine Muguruza (above), this year's losing Wimbledon finalist, sees herself getting closer to the top.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE

Confident young Spaniard now ranked 4th after string of wins against top-10 rivals

Sport is relentlessly obsessed with the next and the new and in Garbine Muguruza, tennis hopes it has found its latest star.

Everything about the Spaniard screams box office. Tall and attractive, she is a sponsor's dream while her aggressive game has led to her spectacular rise up the world rankings. Even her scrunched-up facial expressions to tough questions draw laughter from seasoned journalists.

Ranked 58th at the start of last year, only three women are currently ahead of her in the standings. She is her country's first Wimbledon finalist in 15 years and has been earmarked by her rivals as one of the biggest threats at the WTA Finals, despite this being her singles debut at the season-finale.

While cautious about her chances, the 22-year-old and youngest of the eight competitors also radiated unshakeable belief in her abilities during yesterday's press conference at Marina Bay Sands.

She said: "I earned my place here. I definitely have the level to compete and I deserve to be playing here... I think I played very good this month, and hopefully I can continue doing it."

Her recent form - a win and a final appearance in her last two events in China - bodes well as she opens her singles campaign against Czech Lucie Safarova tomorrow evening. Angelique Kerber and 2011 Finals champion Petra Kvitova complete the White group.

Muguruza, partnering compatriot Carla Suarez Navarro in the doubles, will also be in action today against second seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Safarova, Grand Slam winners in Melbourne and Paris.

Muguruza may have only two WTA titles but has shown a penchant for the big stage with little regard for her opponent's pedigree.

In the past two seasons, she has racked up 10 wins against top-10 players, a remarkable record considering this is only her third full year (her 2013 season was cut short by ankle surgery) as a pro.

The Barcelona resident and only daughter of Jose Antonio and Scarlet Blanco is also a bona fide star back home and has appeared on the front page of Marca (the country's biggest sports newspaper) more times this year than 14-time Major winner Rafael Nadal.

Noted Marca reporter Joan Solsona, who has covered tennis since 2000: "When Serena Williams eventually retires, Garbine will be the one to take over. She has everything needed to dominate."

Former world No. 1 Martina Hingis also backed Muguruza - based in Singapore for the past two weeks to ensure her preparations were not disrupted by travel and jet-lag - to shine at the Indoor Stadium.

Said Hingis: "I like a lot the way she played lately. She probably has an edge right now. But can she pull through it? Can she win an event like this? That's another question. Is she mature enough? I think so."

Lifting the Billie Jean King trophy next Sunday will also further enhance Muguruza's status as the game's brightest talent.

Asked if she saw herself as a potential elite player and even perhaps a No. 1, she said: "Yes, I think. Well, I'm trying to, you know. I think I'm getting closer and closer. I think I have the possibility to be there if I work hard.

"I still have to do a lot of things, work, improve. But I think I'm in the right way to make it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 25, 2015, with the headline 'MUGURUZA TIPPED TO LIGHT UP TENNIS'. Print Edition | Subscribe