2020 was a strange year for everyone; even for a global tennis star like Garbiñe Muguruza. Despite lacking a certain level of consistency at times, at 27 years of age she can boast of having reached number one in the world and of having a record she could be proud of even if she retired today. That said, her best tennis should still be ahead of her and she is facing the next phase of her career with a renewed spirit.
The pressure of having won at Roland Garros and Wimbledon weighs heavy, but almost a decade at the highest level forges a special character. "The pressure is a privilege. It's better to go out and play already feeling that you have to do well and that it's an important tournament. That responsibility of having trained hard to be ready... I always prefer to look at myself as a possible champion in every tournament I play," she says with determination when asked about the weight of her own career.
After an atypical 2020, her outlook is positive despite the feeling that the break caused by the pandemic hampered a period of good personal progress after teaming up with another Spanish women's tennis legend, Conchita Martínez, who is now Muguruza's coach. At the start of the year she reached the final of the first Grand Slam of the season, the Australian Open, before the Covid-19 made its appearance. It was her fourth career major final but came up short against Sofia Kenin.
"It was a strange year, with a lot of uncertainty. It started very well and then there was a kind of standstill, a kind of new life for us. I'm always travelling a lot. Now I'm looking for more tranquility, to entertain myself somehow and to keep active by doing other things. I always see the positive side of everything that is bad and I have taken advantage of it to explore new things," she says, emphasising the value of having such a break in a sport as demanding as tennis.
However, when the sport finally did resume, "it was really difficult", she says. Used to playing on the most important stages in the world such as the Philippe-Chatrier, Centre Court at Wimbledon or Flushing Meadows, in front of thousands of spectators, playing in major tournaments without spectators (or very few) and on unusual dates had a big effect on Muguruza.
"We're used to playing with an audience. It gives us a certain spark. A nervousness. Coming into an empty stadium is a challenge because you miss the energy of the people who come to see you and that is also part of the show."
2020 is now behind us, a year that was supposed to be an Olympic year. Barring any more surprises, the Tokyo Games will be held in the summer of 2021 and this is of course the biggest objective for any sportsman or woman. Muguruza is looking forward to what will be her second Olympic experience after the round of sixteen in the Rio 2016 women's singles tournament and also the quarter finals in the women's doubles with her friend Carla Suárez. However, the Games won't be her only focus.
"An Olympic year is always very special but it's difficult to set an objective when there is so much uncertainty. All I can do is go out and play the big tournaments as they come and lift the big trophies. Lifting a trophy is the greatest feeling there is and I always have it as my goal," she says, with the emotion of someone who knows what it's like to lift the most important titles.
"We need to show strength and courage because this is something that affects all of us. It's a challenge but things will change. It won't last forever," she concludes, as a hopeful message for the new year.
It's a year that has started in Abu Dhabi where she is progressing well in the Open. Once her participation has concluded, she will travel to Australia where she will be hoping to go one better in the Australian Open.