LONDON – When it was over, when she was assured of being this year's Wimbledon runner-up and not this year's Wimbledon champion, Garbine Muguruza shed some tears.
It wasn't just because she lost to Serena Williams, though. It was because the crowd at Centre Court absolutely loved her.
"I couldn't stop crying," said Muguruza, who even got Williams to get out of her chair and join in the rousing ovation. "So many people are clapping. ... I make all these people feel this in a tennis court?
"I felt special."
Muguruza was playing in her first Grand Slam final on Saturday, but she was up against one of the greatest players of all time. And although the stage was about as big as it gets in the tennis world, the 21-year-old Spaniard came out strong, breaking Williams in the opening game of the match.
It didn't last, but against Williams it rarely does.
"With Serena, if you lose two points, you lose the match," Muguruza said after the 6-4, 6-4 loss, perhaps only exaggerating a little bit. "I think I fight all I can fight."
Muguruza had never before even played in a Grand Slam semifinal before this week. Her best previous performances came by reaching the quarterfinals at the last two French Opens, including a 6-2, 6-2 win over Williams in the second round of last year's tournament at Roland Garros.
Williams won their next encounter, at this year's Australian Open, and Muguruza knew it would be even tougher against the now 21-time Grand Slam champion at the All England Club.
"You're thinking, 'She won five times this,'" Muguruza said. "But I just learned that all the people are nervous, even Serena, in a final, because I saw it, and that I have a good level."
She saw it in herself, and she showed it to the world — and to Williams.
"Don't be sad," Williams said to Muguruza on court after the match. "You'll be holding this trophy very, very soon, believe me."
After losing the first set and going down two breaks in the second, Williams was leading 5-1 and serving for the match — and for her fourth straight major title.
Muguruza broke, and then broke again to get back on serve at 5-4. That's when the 33-year-old Williams again took charge.
"She was playing really good, serving aces, winners. I was like, 'What can I do?'" Muguruza said. "At the end when it was 5-1, I said, 'OK, I have to keep fighting, the match is not over.'"
At 21, actually, her career is really just getting started.
"I'm going to leave here being really motivated," Muguruza said. "This gives me a lot of power to keep practicing and improving, to see what else I can do in my next tournaments."