The connection between Garbine Muguruza and Stan Wawrinka is obvious, and it has been brought back into public view at the 2020 Australian Open.
Muguruza and Wawrinka can play mediocre (or worse) tennis for several months, and then find the light at a major tournament to dominate the competition. They can look awful in one moment and then own the big stage with authoritative clarity and mastery.
It is exasperating for anyone who wants them to do well throughout a full tennis season. It is not a traditional path to tennis greatness.
Yet, this is what Muguruza and Wawrinka are as tennis players. They can sleep in a dark cave, out of sight and out of mind, and then emerge from their bunker to rule the roost… after which they go back to their hidden lives as players who lose in round one or two at most tour stops in a year.
Their plane flights out of town are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays of a given week, not Saturdays or Sundays.
It is weird, but Muguruza and Wawrinka are the exceptions to the rule among major champions. That is their fundamental connection.
There is a fundamental point of separation between the two, however, and it isn’t so much the players themselves as the contexts in which they ply their trade.
The WTA is a realm in which semifinalists and finalists don’t generally carry over from one major tournament to the next. Check out this stat from Trenton Jocz:
Not since 2006 Wimbledon(!) has there been a Grand Slam in which all 4 women's semifinalists were already major champions
(Mauresmo/Clijsters/Henin/Sharapova, the top 4 seeds) https://t.co/Fg7WMzGegl
— Trenton Jocz (@TrentonJocz) January 27, 2020
Also remember that in 2019, only two players made more than one major semifinal: Serena Williams and Elina Svitolina. Serena was the only woman on tour who made more than one major final.
With this landscape of volatility staring at the professionals of the WTA Tour, any inconsistent player with immense talent — a very high ceiling — can rocket to the winner’s circle at a major tournament if she fulfills her potential.
Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova are playing quite well at this tournament, but Muguruza is playing even better. She crushed Svitolina 12 games to 3. She beat top-10 seed Kiki Bertens with minimal trouble. Halep and Kvitova, plus top seed Ash Barty, aren’t winning as convincingly.
Muguruza looks like the best player right now. It doesn’t guarantee she will win this tournament, but the point of emphasis is that in this current WTA landscape, her potential can easily turn into the best tennis on tour. Conchita Martinez is getting the most out of Muguruza’s game.
The landscape of the ATP Tour could not be more different, for reasons which are very obvious.
Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer are all still alive in this tournament. They are all still very good. They are roadblocks. More precisely, they are hard to beat in consecutive matches.
Remember this: Wawrinka never had to beat two Big 3 opponents in consecutive matches to win his major titles. He beat Djokovic in the quarterfinals of the 2014 Australian Open, but then played Tomas Berdych in the semifinals before facing Nadal in the final.
Stan beat Federer in the 2015 Roland Garros quarterfinals, but then he faced Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semis before meeting Djokovic in the final.
Maybe he will beat Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals of the 2020 Australian Open, but Stan would probably have to beat Nadal in the semis and Djokovic in the final to win the whole thing.
Wawrinka and Muguruza might have a powerful connection, but their Australian Open title chances are so different because of the tours in which they compete. This is their great point of separation.