In a surprising Australian open women’s final, No. 14 seed Sofia Kenin will meet unseeded Garbine Muguruza for the title Saturday evening.
On a blazing hot, triple-digit scorcher of a day, the upstart Kenin opened play on Rod Laver against the big favorite and world No. 1 Ash Barty. Barty was in form early on her serve against the American who had never been past a Slam fourth round before this week, but the Australian couldn’t close it out at the time of asking in the tiebreak.
With no breaks in the set, the two forced a breaker in which Barty jumped out 6-4 and held two set points. Kenin would not be denied taking four straight points to take the set in front of a stunned pro-Barty crowd.
Barty broke for a 2-1 lead in the second, and held on to serve for the set at 5-4. But at 40-15 the top seed couldn’t convert either set point and the spunky Kenin stole the match running off three straight games with ease to take it 7-6(6), 7-5.
“I believed I could win even though I had two set points down in the first and second,” Kenin said. “I could literally feel, I was telling myself, I believe in myself. If I lose the set, I’m still going to come out and believe. Yeah, I really did a great job with it. I didn’t give up.
“I knew it was a tough match. Of course, some things didn’t go my way with the challenges and some great shots she came up with. But I didn’t let that stop me.”
Barty made her first Australian Open semifinal becoming the first woman from her country to reach the last four in 36 years since Wendy Turnbull. She was all class in defeat.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing,” Barty said. “But it’s been a hell of a summer. I mean, if you would have told me three weeks ago that we would have won a tournament in Adelaide, made the semifinals of the Australian Open, I’d take that absolutely every single day of the week.
“But I put myself in a position to win the match today and just didn’t play the biggest points well enough to be able to win.
“I have to give credit where credit’s due. Sofia came out and played aggressively on those points and deserved to win.”
The second semifinal was a virtual carbon copy of the first.
Muguruza had won all three meetings with Simona Halep on hard courts. With temperatures climbing, the Spaniard pulled ahead with a break but serving for the first at 5-4, Muguruza was broken at love.
Halep would later score multiple set points however she was unable to capitalize while Muguruza finally did to scrap out a 10-8 nailbiter first set breaker.
The Romanian would rebound in the second but this time she couldn’t press the issue. Serving for a third at 5-4, 30-30, Halep couldn’t send it to a decider and Muguruza ran off the last three games to reach her fourth Grand Slam final, first on a hard court.
“I had a tough opponent,” said Muguruza. “I knew it was going to be a tough semifinal against Simona. She’s a very good player. Every time we played, it was very physical, long matches. I knew it was going to be a very hot day.
“It’s tough to say really what’s the little difference,” she said. “I guess maybe structuring better the points, using more my weapons. It’s literally, like, a half second or one shot the difference. It’s very delicate. It’s also a lot about confidence, the way you’re playing. Yeah, just a mix of that.”
Halep hadn’t dropped a set entering the event and couldn’t convert those three set points in the first.
“I think maybe I could be a little bit more brave in the points that were important,” Halep said. “I didn’t do that. Maybe I went a little bit defensive in those balls and I couldn’t take the domination of the point.”
Kenin beat Muguruza in three sets last year in Beijing.
“I think she is playing great,” said Muguruza of Kenin. “I think since a while she’s just progressing up in the rankings and in the results. So I think she deserves to be in the final with the tennis she has been showing.”
A new Australian Open winner will be holding the trophy on Saturday night in Melbourne.
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