The Spanish former world No 1 tells ‘The National’ about the inaugural Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open and how she plans to approach the new season after a difficult 2022
When Garbine Muguruza last visited Abu Dhabi to compete in a WTA Tour event, life was decidedly different. It was January 2021 and restrictions designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 were firmly in place.\
The UAE’s vigilant response to the pandemic made it the ideal place to start the new tennis season, and so the one-off Abu Dhabi Women’s Tennis Open was created. There were no spectators, and the players were contained in ‘bubbles’, splitting their time exclusively between hotel room and tennis court.
I could see the beach from my window, so I was there but not there because I was stuck in the hotel room,” Muguruza, 29, told The National.
“We would only go to the court. We couldn’t walk around or anything, so it was hard. I got to see the city a little bit on the way to the court, but this time I’m definitely going to go out, go to restaurants, do some sightseeing and experience more of Abu Dhabi.”
The opportunity for Muguruza to enjoy Abu Dhabi for real has been made possible with the addition of the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open to the WTA Tour calendar – and in the Spaniard’s case, the invitation of a wildcard.
The 500-level tournament, to be held February 6-12 at Zayed Sports City, will be a permanent fixture on the tour and adds to the Middle East swing already comprising the Qatar Open – taking place the following week – and the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, starting on February 19.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Muguruza said, when asked about Abu Dhabi being added to the calendar. “Because of Covid, it’s opened up the tour to new markets, so it’s a good thing.
“I’ve been to places where tennis wasn’t perhaps so familiar, and I felt it was a great opportunity to take tennis to these places. In the Middle East, it’s great we get more tournaments. Tennis might not be the No 1 sport but that can change, especially when these events are happening, and we give people the chance to see more of the sport.”
For much of her career, Muguruza would enter such tournaments as one of the top seeds and a leading contender for the title. Being a world No 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion will generally attract that sort of status.
Instead, the Spaniard will arrive in the capital ranked outside the top 80 and without a win this year. Last season, she won just 12 matches and only twice claimed back-to-back wins. It marks an alarming and curious drop in form for a player who concluded the 2021 season with the WTA Finals title and ranked world No 3. Earlier that same year, she won the title in Dubai.
“I’ve had so many moments in my career where I’ve been so high, and other moments when I’ve not been so high. It’s a process of trying to get back up there,” Muguruza said. “Now I’m focusing on training hard and being humble.
“You have to know that maybe you haven’t had the success recently as you had in other years, but that’s fine because things can change very quickly.
“With tennis, one week it can go wrong, then next week it can go well, then everything changes again. I think experience helps me to stay calm in the not-so-good moments when I haven’t been playing as well or results haven’t followed.
“That’s where the experience comes in; to stay calm and keep working hard. And if you have to be a little more humble, that’s good too. It’s really a rollercoaster, the athlete’s career.”
For a player accustomed to fighting for Grand Slam titles while operating near the top of the rankings, Muguruza is taking a simpler and more philosophical approach to 2023. Last season may have been tough, but it did provide some valuable lessons.
“I feel that this year it’s more about keeping it calm and more simple,” she said. “Last year I put myself under a lot of pressure, telling myself to keep going to stay at the top all the time. That definitely didn’t help me, and it was a bit of struggle.
“This year, yes ranking is important – I’ve been at every possible ranking – but that is not my priority anymore. Now it’s about enjoying my time on court and taking the trophies back home, then we’ll see what the ranking is.”