Tennis players don't typically have much time on their hands to pursue other experiences. The season is long, the travel is wide and the space between campaigns – around one month – does not lend itself to much more than a couple of weeks holiday to recharge, before pre-season gets underway.
This past break was vastly different. After the rescheduled French Open concluded on October 5, the WTA Tour put on just two more tournaments, in the Czech city of Ostrava and Linz in Austria, after the Asian Autumn swing was cancelled into response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Garbine Muguruza played in neither tournament, so her campaign came to an end after her third-round exit at Roland Garros. With the additional time on her calendar, the Spanish two-time Grand Slam champion took the opportunity to do something a little bit different: she joined the Civil Guard.
During her "experimental" week, Muguruza took part in helicopter rescue missions, went cave diving, hiked with the mountain brigade, and participated in self-defence classes, sharing much of the experience with her 800,000 Instagram followers.
"I’ve always wanted to do military training, ever since I was a kid, but the timing was never right with playing tennis," Muguruza said. "It was an incredible week. We went to Mallorca to train there and more than the activities we did, which were incredible, just sharing with them the kind of job that they do – they don’t get any awards or trophies – it was such an experience. I loved it."
But there was one area that proved particularly sobering as Muguruza spent time with the coast guard and witnessed people making dangerous sea crossings.
"It was quite hard because you see many people in need," she said. "I experienced many aspects of [the Civil Guard's] job and I found this one pretty tough. I love all the adventure stuff but there is an ugly truth that they have to face and it really opened my eyes."
After her time with the Civil Guard, Muguruza started a "longer than usual" pre-season to prepare for the 2021 campaign – her 10th on the WTA Tour.
Her season begins in both new and unique surroundings. The pandemic still looms large and has forced the WTA into creating a special calendar to get the year started in a safe and efficient way.
Kicking off this special calendar is the inaugural Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open. Starting on Wednesday and taking place at Zayed Sports City International Tennis Centre, the Abu Dhabi tournament will feature four of the world's top 10. Muguruza, ranked No 15, is seeded fifth and will face France's Kristina Mladenovic in the first round.
"I'm happy to be back at a new tournament because it’s been a long time since I’ve been at a new tournament," Muguruza said.
Beyond experiencing a new event, the 27-year-old former world No 1 is looking forward to returning to competitive action after so much time away from the court. However, Muguruza insists that the break from tennis has given her the chance to reflect.
"I couldn’t do my job – to be in competitions, to play on big courts and having butterflies in the stomach, and I learned that when you’re on the go, you don’t really think about it," she said.
"When you stop you realise that you miss it. But I also really appreciated the time at home so I learned that I didn’t miss tennis that much.
"Many people were sad that they had to be at home and couldn’t go out, but I was like ‘this is great!’ It was good I was able to do and explore different things."
After exploring "different things" with the Civil Guard, now it's back to the day job for Muguruza, starting in Abu Dhabi.