When the Australian Open began, the consensus of opinion was that any one of about 10 or 12 women could win the title, so open was the field and so strong was the depth.
Brilliant Kenin wins first slam title
American recovers to beat Muguruza in Australian Open final
Few people would have picked Sofia Kenin as a possible champion but on Saturday evening at the Australian Open, the American produced a stunning performance to down Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 and become a Grand Slam champion at the tender age of 21.
In her first final, there might have been nerves but Kenin looked fearless, recovering from the loss of the first set to hold off the former Roland-Garros and Wimbledon champion and become the youngest American to win a Slam since Serena Williams at the US Open in 2002.
“My dream has officially come true,” Kenin said. “I cannot describe this feeling. It’s so emotional, I worked so hard. Dreams come true. If you work for it, it’s going to come true. These past two weeks have been the best two weeks of my life.”
Former world No 1 Chris Evert said Kenin, who was born in Russia but moved with her family to the United States when she was a few months old, had the game and the mind to add more Grand Slam titles in the future.
“She has been under-valued and she has been over-shadowed,” Evert said on ESPN. “She is not a flash in the pan. This young lady is going to be around for a long, long time."
Muguruza, appearing in her fourth Grand Slam final having been unseeded for this tournament, took the first set as she dominated from the baseline, her first-strike gameplan working well.
But Kenin is already famed for her never say die attitude and she held firm at the start of the second set, changing the pace, throwing in the odd slice and getting Muguruza out of her comfort zone.
One break, for 3-1 in the second set, set her on her way and she added another to take the set and level the match but it was the game at 2-2 in the decider that proved to be the crucial moment in the match.
Serving at 0-40, Kenin came up with two backhand winners and a forehand winner to save the three break points and then followed those with an ace and a forehand pass to hold for 3-2. “That 2-2, 0-40 game is going to stay with me forever,” Kenin said.
Until that point, Muguruza had served well in the final set but it deserted her from that point on, two double-faults gifting Kenin the break for 4-2 before the American held to go within one game of victory.
At 2-5, two double-faults gave Kenin a match point and though she missed it, she created another with a return winner before Muguruza double-faulted again to give the American victory.
As the enormity of the moment sunk in, Kenin held her head in her hands while her father and coach, Alex filmed everything on his phone.
“I’d like to thank my team and my Dad,” she said. “I can’t believe we’re here today. We worked so hard. And to my Mum, who is at home.”
Muguruza was disappointed with her own level of play but said Kenin had deserved her victory. “I think the way she handled the break points and the game points, these kind of moments (was very impressive),” she said. “I think she came out doing winners, which is a tough (thing to do). I think she played very well. It’s' her first Grand Slam final and she performed really well.”
“If she keeps playing like this, she proved to us that she can play very well, play very well in the important moments, which is a different story,” she said. “I think it's even more special. I think (she can win more).”
Kenin said she hoped that her Australian Open title was just the start of her Grand Slam winning career.
“I would love to,” she said. “That would be amazing. Right now, I mean, I still can't believe what just happened. I need to somehow come down and just let it all sink in.
“Hopefully I can just keep going, build up on everything that I've done these past two weeks, just move forward.
“I'm so proud of myself, my dad, my team, everyone that has been around me. We've worked all hard. We've been through tough times. We did it. We fought. I'm just like on cloud nine.”