Garbine Muguruza departed the All England Club a grand slam believer despite being the latest in a long line of challengers to fall victim to the great Serena Williams.
Muguruza threatened a boilover when she took the opening two games and had Williams on the back foot before the world No.1 seized control to secure her sixth Wimbledon crown with a 6-4 6-4 final triumph on Saturday.
But while Williams was basking in the glory of her 21st major title and second “Serena Slam”, Muguruza won over millions with her fearless approach to her maiden grand slam final.
Williams led the tributes for the 21-year-old who, until last week, had won just one match at the All England Club and last year lost in the opening round.
“Don’t be sad, you will be holding this trophy very, very soon,” the American told the vanquished youngster before lavishing further praise on Muguruza in her champion’s press conference.
“She’s such a great player. She’s beaten me before (at last year’s French Open).
“I think she really stepped up to the plate today. She was determined to do well and to win.
“She came out there to win. She wasn’t out there just to play a final. That says a lot about her and her future.
“She never gave up, literally ever.”
Muguruza was touched by Williams’ gracious words.
“It’s good when you hear something like this from a legend,” the Spaniard said.
“Hopefully I can do it. I was close. It’s good to hear that. I feel better now.”
After losing nine of 10 games mid match, Muguruza won three in a row to fight back to 5-4 down in the second set before Williams finally prevailed.
“I couldn’t stop crying. So many people are clapping,” Muguruza said of the love from the centre-court crowd.
“I don’t know, I make all these people feel this in a tennis court? I felt special.”
Last year’s breakthrough at the Hobart International remains Muguruza’s only title success, but the new world No.9 said her dream Wimbledon run had armed her with newfound belief.
“I don’t feel disappointment,” she said.
“But you never know how many chances you’re going to have to play a final in a grand slam.
“But if you have to choose who to win or who to lose, I would choose Serena.”
There’s no shame in that.
Williams’s list of grand slam final victims reads like a who’s who of modern-day women’s tennis.
Since stunning Martina Hingis as a 17-year-old at the US Open back in 1999, Williams has taken down sister Venus, Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina, Vera Zvonareva, Justine Henin, Agnieszka Radwanksa, Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki, Lucie Safarova and now Muguruza in grand slam finals.
Only four of those 13 have failed to reach world No.1.
“I’m going to leave here being really motivated. I think I’m the most motivated person right now,” Muguruza said.
“I have to believe that I can be there. Here I have the proof, in Wimbledon, that I was really close.”