Pressure tells as Mladenovic ends Roland Garros title defence for tearful Muguruza.
By Ros Satar, in Paris
- Kristina Mladenovic  def. Garbiñe Muguruza  6-1 3-6 6-3
- The Coupe Suzanne Lenglen will be lifted by a maiden Slam winner on Saturday.
- Emotions get the better of Muguruza in her post-match press conference
PARIS, FRANCE – The challenges of defending a title came home to roost for Garbine Muguruza as she stumbled in the fourth round to in-form home crowd favourite Kristina Mladenovic.
Kristina Mladenovic  def. Garbiñe Muguruza  6-1 3-6 6-3
It is hard to forget that just a year ago, Garbine Muguruza came into the French Open decidedly undercooked. It was a similar pattern – she did not really impress in Stuttgart and at her home tournament in Madrid before a flurry of form in Rome and then her run to the French Open title.
The pattern looked familiar – the only difference was the pressure. Obviously the build up for many on the road to Roland Garros was what it would be like for her coming in as a defending champion.
The answer was – difficult. She was a set and a break down in her second round match against the in-form Anett Kontaveit but looked to have settled back into the rhythm of her game until she came up against home-crowd hope Kristina Mladenovic.
While others home competitors at the French Open have struggled with the expectation on their shoulders at their home slam, Mladenovic has positively lapped it up, especially after having picked up the women’s doubles title last year with former partner (and former friend) Caroline Garcia.
Muguruza cannot be a stranger to that kind of atmosphere – she has played in three away ties for Spain in Fed Cup. But the swirl of emotions defending a Grand Slam for the first time is something else.
She had talked earlier in the tournament after her match against Kontaveit of being nervous – and with good cause. This is one of the most wide-open French Open’s on the women’s side, especially with the absence of Serena Williams, expecting her first child later this year. Maria Sharapova had struggled with injury just two tournaments into her comeback after a doping ban, and was denied a wildcard for both the main draw and the qualifying event, so the tournament was (and still is) up for grabs.
Mladenovic wasted absolutely no time launching herself into the match, Before Muguruza really knew where she was or what was happening she was a double break down at 1-4 and the juggernaut was showing no signs of stopping. She steadied the ship and much more of her chances in the second set, but she lost that momentum as Mladenovic surged ahead once more for a 3-1 lead in the decider, with the crowd being very vocal in their support.
Muguruza struggled with her emotions from the start of her post-match interview, her voice breaking at the end of the first question as she said:
“I think the crowd today was a little bit obviously tough for me. I understand. I just think that they were a little bit, sometimes should be a little bit more respectful, even though for the game, because we had to, you know, stop. The chair umpire has to always calm the crowd down. I’m not here to create enemies. I mean, I love playing here. Is not a good feeling.
“I think she’s playing good. You know, I know she makes a lot of double faults. That was a big thing on the match, but she managed to recover all those points. I obviously was a little bit nervous. Through the match I was getting more and more. Also because the feeling.”
The tears came after the third question with the moderator taking her out of the room to allow her to compose herself before continuing. We have seen first time Slam winners struggle with the pressure down the line – Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Angelique Kerber have all had to deal with falling short of the weight of expectation.
Muguruza of course was no different, as she explained:
“I love this tournament no matter what happens. I’m going to be super happy to come back. I think it’s just — it’s gonna sound weird, but I’m actually happy that this stage kind of the year is done, because I wanted to go as far as possible. But even if I didn’t, I think I’m going to feel much better now to continue the year, and everybody is going to stop bothering me asking me about this tournament, so it’s going to be a little bit like, Whew, let’s keep going.
“I keep getting the same questions over and over again, are you under pressure and everything. Of course it’s a privilege to come here when you won last time. There are very few girls who can claim that. But I’m leaving here quite happy because none of the matches I played were easy. They were all tough, all three of them.”
Understandably she was reluctant to talk about plans for the grass, leading up to Wimbledon where she was the runner-up two years ago, but she is expected to be at Birmingham and Eastbourne, where hopefully she is ready to ‘keep going.’
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