Transformation. When players are either struggling or trying to reach important career milestones, they seek transformation. They seek a new way of being, the new vantage point and mindset which will enable them to live a newer, better, more hopeful reality.
“You don’t think into a new way of living; you LIVE into a new way of thinking.” This is something a wise Franciscan priest once said in a public lecture. It has stuck with me, and it very much applies to the quarter of the women’s Roland Garros draw in which three players reside.
Two of those players will meet on Friday.
Garbine Muguruza has struggled throughout 2019, but if you know anything about her, it is this: Muguruza is always capable of coming alive at Roland Garros, even after months of difficulty. This is her best tournament. She didn’t have a particularly impressive start to her 2018 season, but there she was, giving Simona Halep a battle in the Roland Garros semifinals. The two organic-surface majors — Roland Garros and Wimbledon — are the events where she has shown that she can seize the spotlight and own the opportunities presented to her. This is a Stan Wawrinka-like identity — exasperating at times but nevertheless an identity which has brought forth multiple major championships.
Tennis observers might lament Muguruza’s season-long inconsistencies, but when those fluctuations are accompanied by deep runs in majors, they mean less.
How fascinating it is, then, that Muguruza shares the same section of the draw with another player who is somewhat (though not entirely) similar: Sloane Stephens.
If Muguruza can beat Svitolina on Friday in round three, she might meet Stephens in round four. If the two players do clash in the round of 16, it would mark a competition between players who could see a part of themselves in each other.
Stephens has won the U.S. Open and has never made the semifinals at Wimbledon, so in those respects, she is different from Muguruza. Yet, in one specific and obvious way, she is a lot like her Spanish fellow traveler on the WTA Tour. Stephens has shown she can struggle for a few tournaments and then turn on the jets at a major. Her form at the tournament(s) immediately preceding a major is hardly an indicator of what she is likely to do at a major. She doesn’t work that way; in that regard, she and Muguruza are kindred tennis spirits. A meeting between the two, if it happens, would be fascinating for precisely that reason.
Standing in the way of that possible Sloane-Garbine matchup is Elina Svitolina.
Unlike Stephens and Muguruza, Svitolina doesn’t have a major title (or even a final or semifinal) to her name. Unlike Stephens and Muguruza, Svitolina — in 2017 in particular — carved out a reputation as a consistent player, flourishing at Premier 5 tour stops and stringing together successful tournaments. People question Stephens and Muguruza on year-long consistency. Before her injury woes and (earlier) changes in her weight, Svitolina’s consistency wasn’t the issue. It was her performance in majors, making her the WTA’s equivalent of what Alexander Zverev is on the ATP Tour.
Svitolina is a different tennis example, a different set of tension points, relative to Stephens and Muguruza. Yet, like those other two players, she does seek transformation. She wants to be able to clear the hurdles which currently prevent her from establishing herself at a higher level on tour.
Why is Muguruza-Svitolina such an interesting match on Friday? Why is this section with Stephens so intriguing? It is intriguing for all the reasons mentioned above… and for the fact that Kiki Bertens, felled by illness, is no longer in this quarter.
Whoever wins the Muguruza-Svitolina match will have a legitimate chance of making the semis — with Bertens out — and will have a shot at making the final, since the bottom half isn’t nearly as stacked as the top half (which has Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Serena Williams, and Simona Halep).
Transformation station? The first stop is Friday in Paris, with Garbine Muguruza and Elina Svitolina hoping to get a ticket aboard this coveted French train.