By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – When Spain’s newly-crowned French open champion Garbine Muguruza arrives in Mallorca this week it will not be a red carpet they lay down but a lush green one.
In a dream scenario for promoters of the ambitious new WTA event being staged just a few kilometers from the party resort of Magaluf, the world number two is the headline act of a tournament being dubbed Wimbledon by the Mediterranean.
When the Venezuelan-born 22-year-old signed up for the June 13-19 event on the holiday isle, few imagined she would arrive with her first grand slam title in the bag after a dream run in rainy Paris culminated with victory over Serena Williams.
Certainly not tournament director Peer Zebergs or owner Edwin Weindorfer, who hopes to make Mallorca, home of claycourt king Rafael Nadal, an important fixture on an expanding grasscourt season over the next five years.
“That would have been top of my wish list,” Zebergs told Reuters by telephone.
“Last year she was a Wimbledon finalist and now she has performed like this at Roland Garros. Garbine is the talk of Spain and timing is fantastic for us.”
Weindorfer, who also owns the Stuttgart ATP grasscourt event taking place this week, hopes Muguruza’s rise to fame will spark a surge of interest in the Mallorca Open.
“We are lucky that we have a new Spanish star born and she’s playing in our tournament. Absolutely couldn’t have asked for more,” he said. “We are very excited about it.”
Mallorca appears an odd venue for ‘lawn’ tennis but the things have moved on from the days when, in the words of Manuel Santana, Spanish players regarded grass as “only for cows”.
Santana himself won Wimbledon, Nadal has twice triumphed at the All England Club, Conchita Martinez did so in 1994 and Muguruza reached last year’s final, losing to Williams.
Six lawns have been installed at the Santa Ponsa Country Club with rye grass very similar to that used at Wimbledon, albeit a variety able to tolerate scorching temperatures rather than London’s often fickle weather.
A 3,000-capacity Centre Court has been built with those in the top rows able to gaze out at the shimmering sea.
Floodlights mean evening sessions — a first for an outdoor grasscourt event.
The likes of former world number one Ana Ivanovic and Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber have already been hitting on the Santa Ponsa lawns and tickets are selling fast as tourists add a visit to a tennis tournament onto their excursion list.
“So far the players have loved it,” Weindorfer said. “They are guaranteed the sun, it’s two weeks before Wimbledon, it’s relaxed. We want to build a brand there.”
For Muguruza who will top a draw featuring Ivanovic and Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, it could not be more convenient.
“I think something’s changing here. I started on the clay in Spain and, but I’ve proved that Spanish girls can play on grass and people will think it’s cool,” she told Reuters.
“It will be very important preparation for Wimbledon. One of my key tournaments to get ready so it’s perfect.”
Spain’s Fed Cup captain Martinez said it was a boost for Spanish tennis which lost a tournament in Valencia and had no stand-alone WTA event until Mallorca was added to the Tour.
“It’s great news because we don’t have many (women’s tournaments) in Spain any more,” she said.
“Hopefully, it will become established. To have Garbine there is important. She has a great grass game and will have great expectations.”
Having grasscourts close to his Manacor home is also good news for Nadal as he battles to be fit for Wimbledon after pulling out of the French Open due to a wrist injury.
“If Rafa wishes to practise on the courts he has an invitation any time,” Weindorfer said. “He can practise any time down there.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)