MELBOURNE, Australia — Conchita Martinez may be busy coaching in the Australian Open and getting elected into the Tennis Hall of Fame, but she’s still rooting for Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt to get back together, just like the rest of us.
In fact, she understands their relationship perhaps better than most. Because sometimes when a pair seems so right together, it just makes sense for them to be reunited. She relates the famous Hollywood exes to her own situation with Garbine Muguruza, a player she coached to a Wimbledon title in 2017 before parting ways, and then rejoined ahead of the 2020 season.
“It’s like couples, we all want Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston to get back together, right?” she said this week about working with her fellow Spaniard. “Sometimes it happens like that. I was very grateful to have the opportunity to work with Karolina [Pliskova], it was a great partnership.
“We had an awesome year. Now being back with Garbine, it feels great to be back and united, working hard. For me to see her doing well is great.”
While the jury is still out on Aniston and Pitt’s future relationship, it seems Martinez and Muguruza are doing better than ever. The 26-year-old advanced to her first Australian Open semifinal on Wednesday with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. She will face reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep with a finals berth on the line Thursday in a much-hyped battle of former No. 1s.
For Muguruza, it marks a resurgence and return to elite form after a challenging 2019 in which she ended the year ranked No. 36, her lowest placing in five seasons.
The winner of the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017, she took over the world No. 1 ranking in September of 2017. But she has struggled since — she was eliminated in the first round of Wimbledon and the US Open last season. This will be her first major final four since 2018 at Roland Garros. She split with coach Sam Sumyk (who is now working with Pavlyuchenkova) last year, and began working with Martinez during the offseason. They spent five weeks training together in San Diego before the start of the season.
Muguruza came to California with a new outlook and a positive attitude, having spent the first part of her offseason climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. A trip, she says, that cleared her mind, and reinvigorated her.
“It was a very hard challenge, completely different of what I do,” she said about the trip. “You’re climbing that mountain and it’s only you. You don’t get any award, any prize, any photo, any nothing up there.
“It’s really challenging, physically and mentally to be there, and I was just looking for something fun, a different experience outside from tennis. Tennis, you know, we’re here the whole year, and just to get out a little bit and do something different. I had no idea about it, because I have never done anything similar before. I really like the experience to see myself in the middle of nowhere, just having one clear thought, just to keep climbing.”
The combination of the new-old partnership and reenergized approach has resulted in immediate success. Muguruza advanced to the semifinal at Shenzhen, and the quarterfinal at Hobart (before withdrawing with a viral illness) to start the year. In Melbourne, she has knocked off two top-10 players (Elina Svitolina and Kiki Bertens) in straight sets on her way to the semifinals. In Wednesday’s quarterfinal match, she held on to take the first set in just under an hour and took advantage of Pavlyuchenkova’s serving woes, including three of her eight double faults as she served down 5-6 in the opening set, and 26 unforced errors. It wasn’t the prettiest match, but she did enough to pull out the victory.
“It is always special to get deep in a Grand Slam,” she said after the match. “Very excited to be playing tomorrow again. It’s a very long tournament. You have very tough opponents, not being seeded as well.
“I’m just happy that I’m going through every match. We’ll have to see it more.”
Martinez, who won the singles title at Wimbledon in 1994, was named to the 2020 Hall of Fame class earlier this week. She says she understands the challenges of being a professional tennis player, and wants to help Muguruza with all facets of the game.
“I am trying to help as much as I can with every aspect,” she said. “Not only coaching, that goes with what I was talking about, the experience as a player, the mental part. I’ve gone through that and more things.
“I’ll try and help her. We talk a lot. But we understand each other. Sometimes you don’t need to, like, talk for three hours. You go straight to the point. She understands. She’s trusting right now. So it’s good.”
With less than 24 hours to prepare for Halep, and with a forecast of temperatures hovering around 100 degrees, Muguruza knows she must be strong mentally in what she expects to a tricky battle on Thursday. She holds a 3-2 career edge, but lost their last meeting in the semifinals at the French Open in 2018. Their careers have gone in opposite directions since — Halep won that tournament — but Muguruza said she feels as if she’s finally back on track, and is expected to return to the top 20 in the next rankings. Thursday will be a good test of just far she has come, or has to go.
“I think the toughest moments are when you work hard, work like before, or even harder, and you don’t feel like results are coming fast,” she said, reflecting on her past two years. “So I think that’s the tricky part of us. Athletes sometimes can get a little bit desperate, get too impatient about it.
“You just have to be patient and go through the rough moments, just hang in there and it will come back again.”