Tennis

Don't blame pressure for Muguruza's struggles

WTA Finals Ambassador Evert says the depth of the women's game makes life tougher at the top

First, it was Angelique Kerber.

Now Spain's tennis star Garbine Muguruza is realising that staying at the top is tougher than getting there.

Former world No. 1 Kerber has dropped to 12th after failing to win a title this year, and the 29-year-old German failed to go past the fourth round at any of the Grand Slams.

Wimbledon champion Muguruza claimed the top ranking in the middle of last month, but things have hardly gone her way in recent weeks.

Two weeks ago, the 23-year-old lost to another former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the semi-finals of the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Japan. Last week, Muguruza was knocked out of the quarter-finals of the Wuhan Open in China by world No. 8 Jelena Ostapenko.

Her mini slide continued yesterday when she retired ill with a virus in the first round of the China Open in Beijing.

She lost the first set 6-1 to unseeded Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic and called for a medical timeout at 2-0 down in the second set. She then called it quits after having her pulse taken on the side of the court.

With the season-ending BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global taking place from Oct 22-29, it remains to be seen if Muguruza can bring her A-game to Singapore.

Is it a case of the pressure of being world No. 1 getting to the Spaniard?

WTA Finals Legend Ambassador Chris Evert feels that it's the depth of the women's game that the top players are struggling to deal with.

"I don't think it's struggling with the pressure as much as it's struggling with the players," the former world No. 1 said in a conference call yesterday.

"As you can see, there's just been so many different champions this year.

"I don't think Muguruza's struggling at all. 
I think it's basically the depth, it's so tough."WTA Finals Ambassador Chris Evert

"I don't think Muguruza's struggling at all. I think it's basically the depth, it's so tough.

"And with players like Muguruza, (Karolina) Pliskova, (Elina) Svitolina, Wozniacki, you have a lot of depth at the top of the game, so they're going to go back and forth."

Evert added that the absence of Serena Williams, who is taking a break from the game to give birth to her first child last month, has spurred the other top players to raise their game.

"You don't have Serena Williams, she didn't play this year. So you don't have a dominant player at the top," said Evert.

"In a sense, I think it's a good thing because these players are really fighting it out to determine who is going to carry the torch and be the next leader of the women's game."

With 18 Grand Slam trophies to her name, the 63-year-old American has been there, done that. She believes that pressure is inevitable when a player becomes world No. 1.

"Once you get to the top, that's when you have the target (on your back) and that's when everybody is trying to beat you," she said.

"But I've always felt that pressure is only what you put on yourself. Pressure is only how you view it and who can handle the pressure the best, embrace it, and view it as a challenge instead of a threat.

"And that's something a player like Serena has felt comfortable with it, because it's normal for her to be No. 1."

Last week, a host of seeded players crashed out of the Wuhan Open won by France's Caroline Garcia.

Asked if the heavy WTA Tour schedule has taken its toll on the players, Evert said: "This is an issue that has been ongoing for as long as tennis has existed.

"Tennis is such a physical, mental and emotional sport that by the time you get around to the end of the year, between October and November, it's understandable that players start to feel the effects of the whole year.

"So you really have to manage your schedule so that when it comes around (to the end of the season), you feel fit and sharp and not injured."