Across various industries and worlds, there's a goal that's easily translatable: to excel. Great achievement — won through dedicated work and a determination to improve — has been associated with Rolex for generations, making the brand's collaboration with ambassadors from a range of fields feel right. In an ongoing partnership with Rolex, we explore the journeys of these exceptional women.
You don't have to look far to find a story of someone meeting their idol, but coming up against them in a one-on-one challenge and walking away the victor? It sounds more like a Greek myth than a highlight of modern sports history. Garbiñe Muguruza, the 23-year-old Venezuelan-born, Spanish-trained tennis player, is the real-life heroine you're looking for. As a first-time finalist in the 2016 French Open, she won against her own childhood idol, covering her face with her hands and crumpling to the court in sheer, unchecked astonishment after the win was made official. We talk with her about what a life-altering victory feels like, the sacrifices she's made to get there, and how there's so much more to her story than the two-hour matches the world sees.
On getting started:
"I was about three years old when I started playing in Venezuela with my two older brothers. They're 12 and 11 years older, so I was always the little one. While they were playing, I would be outside looking until I jumped onto the court, took a racket, and started playing. I couldn't be accepted into tennis school because I was too young. I had to wait a year until I was four before they'd accept me. Tennis isn't the most popular sport in Venezuela, so we moved to Spain when I was around six. My brothers were playing pretty well, and so we all moved to an academy and started playing more professional tennis."
"We changed countries, changed everything just because of tennis."
On building a family legacy:
"I was always following my brothers. They don't [play tennis anymore.] They have their careers and are working, but they tried — they weren't able to make a job out of it, so I was the last hope of the family. We're all really passionate about tennis, but my parents never played. If my brothers hadn't played, I never would have picked up a racket, and I wouldn't have followed them to Spain. I wouldn't be the tennis player I am right now.
"The first tournament I ever played, I won. I was six years old. Then I moved to Spain and at all the tournaments I'd play, I would be really good in my age [group]. That made me realise. that I could be a pro. I actually made the family dream come true just by playing for fun."
On the sacrifices:
"It's so rewarding to succeed in what you like to do that you don't really think about what you have to give up. When you're a teenager, all your friends are hanging out somewhere and you have to go to practice. You have a completely different life. It felt like, 'I'm gonna do my stuff, and hopefully I'll be the best at what I do and this won't matter anymore.'
"Tennis is a very individual sport, and you have to be alone so much. You travel with your team, but you don't have your family or your close people with you. You have to go through rough situations on your own.
"We have to be very careful and extremely demanding about everything we do, because if your goal is to the best at something, you have to do everything better than the rest of the people that are playing tennis in the entire world. You have to be very cautious with what you eat, how you practice. Everything you do has to be extremely good."
On understanding the monumental:
"When you win those tournaments [like the French Open in 2016], in those moments you think about the process. You look back at your family — we changed countries, changed everything just because of tennis. You realise that you started in a very small tennis club in a South American country where you don't think about becoming the best tennis player. Everything we've been through to right now, holding that trophy… my parents were so emotional because they felt like, 'Everything we've done is worth it.' Those moments go by so quickly that you have to slow down and enjoy it. Tennis is so fast that after it there's another tournament and other expectations. Everything changes."
"What people see is only two hours of a tennis match... There's a lot more [to me] than those two hours."
On overcoming challenges:
"About three years ago I got injured. Injuries for an athlete are the worst because it means you can't do anything. You just have to wait until your body heals. That period of time was rough for me, but when I went back to competition I was so motivated. I was hungry. I won a tournament right away and felt so happy because I'd suffered a lot those months, sitting on a chair and waiting. When I went back to the court I had so much to give that everything went so well. It was incredible."
On celebrating in style:
"After I had a good year I wanted to get something nice for myself. I wanted to have something that would remind me of an achievement I had, this great year. It was like, 'I know what I'm going to buy.' I was talking with my parents — 'I want this watch, I want to buy this watch.' For Christmas we went to the shop, and I knew which one, the colour, everything. I always knew because my father has a Rolex, and my mom has a Rolex, and when I wanted to buy my first watch, it was, 'I want a Rolex, obviously.'"
On being a hometown hero:
"The crowd makes a big difference when I pay in Spain. They support me, and I feel super pumped-up because I feel like I'm home. I play my worst tennis at home because I want to do extremely well in front of them. It's horrible — I get so nervous, and it takes some time for me to start to feel relaxed. I don't think about those numbers [of being the first female Spanish player to make a grand-slam final since 2000]. I just try to make my own history and contribute."
On building a brand:
"I always try to not try too hard. To be natural. [Editor's note: Garbine has a highly-reviewed personal app that she uses as a type of uber-Instagram.] Everything I do, it's what I really feel. I take my phone and say something because it's what I'm feeling — I can make these videos and people can follow me a little bit. At the end, what people see is only two hours of a tennis match where you're fighting and running and sometimes you get upset. There's a lot more [to me] than those two hours. Going out there and playing is actually the easy part. I wanted people to see what's behind that, because the hard part is to practice, to travel. I use all these platforms to show people that there's something else beside the two hours in a match."