If anyone had predicted that the women’s final at the Australian Open would be between Garbine Muguruza and Sofia Kenin, then they should probably be heading down to Melbourne’s Crown Casino to splash their cash.
Muguruza and Kenin set up surprise final
Two-time major winner up against young American for title.
Unseeded this year after a difficult 2019, Muguruza edged out the current Wimbledon and former Roland-Garros champion Simona Halep 7-6, 7-5 to reach her fourth grand slam final, while Kenin, the No 14 seed, broke Australian hearts by beating Ash Barty by the same score to reach the final of a slam for the first time.
For Muguruza, who won her first Grand Slam title at Roland-Garros in 2016 and her second at Wimbledon the following year, it is a remarkable turnaround, having lost the first set of her tournament 6-0 to the American, Shelby Rogers, when she had her blood pressure taken before scrambling through.
For Kenin, it is the reward for a fabulous tournament, her fourth-round win over Coco Gauff followed by a victory over Ons Jabeur and then, on Thursday, a mature, bold performance to deny Barty.
"It's a dream come true for me"
Kenin has found extra fame this week thanks to a video that was recirculated of her when she was 7 years old, explaining how she would return the serve of the former men’s world No 1 Andy Roddick.
“I’m sure you’ve all seen it,” Kenin told the crowd after beating Barty. “He tweeted something about me. He said congratulations and stuff, so...thank you, Andy.”
Born in Moscow to Russian parents, Kenin moved with her family to the United States a few months later and even at a young age, dreamed of fighting for grand slam titles, though at 21, she has reached a final perhaps ahead of schedule.
“I'm not shocked,” Kenin said. “It's a dream come true for me. I've always dreamed about this. Yeah, after the match, of course it's pretty emotional. It's the finals. It's something different. It's surreal. I didn't have a book, I didn't know exactly when (it would happen). I feel like at this young age, I think it's incredible. Not everyone gets to live this moment, live this dream. I'm just really grateful for it. I've worked so hard. I've put all the efforts into my practises, into my fitness. All the efforts I've been doing, it's got me here. It's just paying off and it's like a dream come true for me.”
Clutch Kenin@SofiaKenin collects a 7-6(6) 7-5 win over world No. 1 Barty to reach her first Grand Slam final and become the youngest Melbourne finalist since 2008.#AO2020 | #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/vPxrtFzgZU— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 30, 2020
Even in the intense heat of Thursday, when temperatures topped 100 degrees, Kenin was a ball of energy, looking as if she was powered by everlasting batteries, such was her willingness to run down everything, chase every lost cause and then, when she got the chance, to attack her opponent and never let up.
Barty, who was trying to become the first Australian to win a singles title in Melbourne since Chris O’Neil 1978, had two set points in the first set and two more in the second but on the biggest points, at the most important times, Kenin held firm.
Before this fortnight, Kenin had not even made it past the fourth round of a slam, her only last-16 appearance coming at Roland-Garros last summer. But it was in Paris that she showed her appetite for the big occasion, beating Serena Williams along the way, and she carried it on here, with her win over Halep.
Occupying centre stage, she said, was something she relished. “I know people haven't really paid attention much to me in the past,” she said. “I had to establish myself, and I have. Of course, now I'm getting the attention, which I like it. Not going to lie. My phone is blowing up these past two weeks. I love this attention. Yeah, I'm enjoying every single moment of it.”
"I’m excited to be in the final"
Muguruza has improved with every match here these two weeks and the Spaniard has shown yet again, that when she is on her game, she is a genuine contender for the sport’s biggest titles.
Halep had two chances to wrap up the first set at 7-6 and 8-7 in the tiebreak but Muguruza saved them both and then, when she got her first set point at 9-8, came forward and saw Halep’s attempted running pass hit the net and stay her side.
Muguruza then fought back from a break down in the second, breaking back when Halep served for it at 5-4 and then clinching victory three games later.
When she dropped that first set to Rogers in round one, few would have expected her to be in the final but champions have a different mentality to others. “I didn’t think like that,” she said. “It’s definitely good to be through, I’m excited to be in the final"
Muguruza may have the experience but Kenin seems fearless and the American plans to make the most of her chance. “You don't experience this so often,” she said. “Of course, I'm going to enjoy it. This is so exciting. Literally butterflies. I'm just going to also focus on what I need to do, focus on my game. I got here, it's time to shine, do the best I can, hopefully do something more special.”
The return of Conchita Martinez, meanwhile, has galvanised Muguruza to find her best form out of nowhere. One more win and she’ll be three-quarters of the way to the career grand slam.
“I’m feeling good,” she said. “I think I played many top-10 players in a row, got the victories. Definitely it's a sign that my tennis is there. Excited to have one more match here, and hopefully get it.”