Tennis Star Garbiñe Muguruza Reflects on Saying No to Venezuela Because of Chavismo

Power is the name of the game in women’s tennis. Serena Williams has been the dominating force in the circuit for many years because she can hit the ball harder than most of her opponents. She has other strengths, but her game is certainly based on her ability to hit shots at a speed her opponents can’t reach. It’s not just Serena, though: a quick look at the rankings shows that most of the players chasing her (Sharapova, Kvitova, Kerber) are also power arms. Sure, you can point to a few odd ones out in the top 10, short Simona Halep, or veteran Flavia Pennetta, but they’re not the rule, they’re the clear exception. At No. 3 in the rankings is a name you might not know: Garbiñe Muguruza. She’s the youngest of these 10 players, and someone who Chris Evert recently said has everything to be the next world No. 1.

Power is also the name of the game in Venezuelan politics. Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999 after winning the presidential election. He was a former member of the military, who had served time for a failed military coup in 1992. He came to power with a leftist agenda that called for emulating Cuban policy and finishing Simón Bolivar’s incomplete dreams of liberating Latin America.

Mugu has everything to be the next world No. 1.

With la revolución bolivariana, he would be in power for a very long time, until his sudden death from cancer in 2013. What can we make of his time in power? In one of the most respected Latin American journalist’s words, “after 14 years in power, Chávez did not leave the nation a stronger democracy or a more prosperous economy.” Garbiñe Muguruza was six by the time Chávez came to power, and a 20-year-old up-and-comer by the time cancer did what the opposition could not: take his presidential seat.

Muguruza was born in Guatire, Venezuela, in 1993 to a Basque father and Venezuelan mother. As a young woman, she moved to Barcelona to hone her skills. So would it be Venezuela or Spain? She was unsure for a few years, and suffered to make the decision, but when she did, Garbiñe Muguruza soared high.

This year’s Wimbledon was the tournament in which Mugu introduced herself to sports fans around the world. Most tennis followers already knew her, but were not quite aware of how far she could go. After beating the likes of Wozniacki, Kerber, and Radwanska, she met an almost unbeatable Serena Williams in the final. She lost, but we all knew there was something special about the Spaniard-Venezuelan with a hard-to-pronounce name.

Her game fit the model of the new power-hitting trend in women’s tennis.

Her game fit the model of the new power-hitting trend in women’s tennis: big serve, huge forehand, and a lot of risk taking. As she has said, “I go out there to dominate. If I win, it’s because of me; if I lose, it’s because of me. The opponent has to beat me.” Success is not easy, is though. She had a complicated summer, not going farther than the second round for four straight tournaments (the U.S. Open among them), before regaining her form during the Asian tour that will finish off the calendar year. Now she is No. 3 in the rankings and ready to make the jump to the top spot. Just this week, she made it to the semifinals in the WTA Finals.

But it wasn’t always this way. According to journalist Sebastian Fest, Muguruza had a terrible crisis after losing in the first round of the 2014 U.S. Open, and almost broke into tears while speaking to journalists. Muguruza was experiencing tremendous pressure. The Caracas government was trying to convince her to play for Venezuela, while Madrid’s was doing the same, a difficult decision given the fact that she has a Spanish father and Venezuelan mother.

Her father’s copper business also was a factor in her decision-making process. She feared choosing Spain could have a negative impact on her father’s business in the country governed by Nicolas Maduro, who narrowly won an election to replace late leader Hugo Chávez in 2013. Maduro’s approval ratings are in the low 20s, thanks to vicious inflation and shortages of goods ranging from spare parts to shampoo.

She feared choosing Spain could have a negative impact on her father’s business in Venezuela.

There were offers and pressures, anger and doubt, but the player was sure that endorsing the Spanish flag would improve her professional career, especially with the Olympic Games coming up, where she would be a candidate for both the singles and doubles category. Venezuela had no other players that are even close to her level.

It was like this that in October 2014 she made an announcement that surprised few: no to Venezuela, yes to Spain.

“I have Venezuela and Spain in my blood and heart. And family in both countries. With the support of my whole family, I have decided to play for Spain from now on. I want to have the feeling of playing for a country, and not just for myself, but for everyone,” she said.