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LONDON (Reuters) - Spaniard Garbine Muguruza's relationship with grasscourt tennis has not been smooth but it has blossomed so spectacularly that she now stands one win from being crowned Wimbledon champion.
The opponent in her way just happens to be Serena Williams, the 'Grand Slam'-seeking five-times champion, but whatever the outcome the 21-year-old Venezuelan-born player will never again walk on to an All England Club lawn with trepidation.
"I'm surprised because my two (grasscourt) tournaments before, they were not so good," Muguruza, the first Spanish woman to reach a Wimbledon final since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1996, told reporters after beating Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2 3-6 6-3 in her first grand slam semi-final.
"I didn't feel so good. So to be (in the) final, it's like amazing."
In the build-up to this year's Wimbledon Muguruza managed just one win in two grasscourt tournaments.
She lost to 146th-ranked Briton Johanna Konta in Eastbourne and got only four games off Slovakian Magdalena Rybarikova in Birmingham. The Barcelona resident had never gone beyond the second round at Wimbledon.
She even told Spain's 1994 Wimbledon women's champion, Conchita Martinez, of her concerns.
"We were laughing, you know, when the tournament started because I was like, Conchita, I'm not sure about grass.
"She's like, C'mon, you can play good."
The penny dropped because Muguruza's sweetly-struck groundstrokes that pepper the baseline, allied with a potent serve, proved too good for 10th seed Angelique Kerber in round three, former world number one Caroline Wozniacki in the last 16 and on Thursday ultimately subdued Radwanska.
"I've grown so much mentally. I'm tougher now. I've learned how to play on grass," 20th-seeded Muguruza, told reporters.
She will take heart from one victory over Williams on her way to the French open quarter-finals in 2014.
Facing the 20-times grand slam champion on Centre Court will be an entirely different proposition, though, but a challenge Muguruza said she was relishing.
"I think it's the best final you can play," she said. "You know, to have Serena in the Wimbledon final I think is the hardest match you can have.
"If you want to win a grand slam, when you dream, you say, I want Serena in the final."
Whether or not Muguruza's parents will come to watch is still not certain. They have witnessed her run to the final at home on TV and she joked that maybe she should not jinx herself.
"Don't change anything. I brush my teeth at the same time, I wake up with the same leg. I'm not going to change anything," she smiled. "I will see now. We will discuss."
(This story was refiled to fix a typo in the headline)
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris