Sofia Kenin impresses with a comeback victory over Garbine Muguruza to become the youngest Australian Open champion since 2008.
Australian Open tennis is live from Melbourne from 20 January until 2 February 2020.
Playing in her first Grand Slam final, Kenin overcame a deficit in experience and a deficit in the scoreline to come back from a set down and beat two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.
Kenin was named the WTA’s Most Improved Player of 2019 after a breakthrough season which saw her claim three titles and break into the top 20, but nobody would have predicted that the 21-year-old Russian-born American would have broken into the ranks of major champions so quickly.
Unseeded at the Australian Open after a prolonged slump, Muguruza was nevertheless many people’s favourite to claim her third major title after victories at the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017, as well as wins over Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina and Kiki Bertens to reach the final in Melbourne.
The more explosive player, Muguruza broke early in the first set to lead 2-1 in a nine-minute service game and built a 4-2 lead. The difference in the early exchanges was Muguruza’s ability to transition forward into the court and finish off points at net, but Kenin succeeded in making Muguruza work extraordinarily hard and it paid dividends for the American, who came back from 0-40 at 2-4 to stay one break down.
Muguruza, who struggled throughout the match with her rhythm on serve and only put in 57% of first serves, served back-to-back double faults to be broken back before immediately rebounding with another aggressive return game and edging to a 6-4 lead after 52 minutes.
But the first set had clearly taken its toll on Muguruza, who had started the tournament suffering from a viral illness which caused her to pull out of the Hobart International. The Spaniard’s energy level dropped and Kenin was quick to take advantage, breaking to lead 4-1 and never looking back on her way to level the match.
Undoubtedly Muguruza’s intensity dropped in the second set, but that was Kenin’s reward for making the Spaniard work so hard in the first set. Kenin also upped the aggression on her own groundstrokes, and started to adjust her tactics to neutralize Muguruza’s attempts to attack the net, keeping the Spaniard pinned back the baseline, throwing in slice to disrupt her rhythm and landing deep defensive lobs to reset the point.
Muguruza regrouped and upped her aggression again in the third set, holding from 15-30 to level 2-2 and then climbing to 0-40 on Kenin’s serve.
But Kenin played five of the best points imaginable under pressure, reeling off three consecutive winners down the line to end tough rallies for deuce, striking an ace for game point and holding.
It was the game that won her the Australian Open, because Muguruza felt the failure to break like a body blow. The Spaniard had game point in the next game, but Kenin once again reaped the rewards of having forced Muguruza to play a lengthy, 19-shot rally on the previous point as she double-faulted to fall behind 2-4.
Kenin was not about to let her advantage slip, even with Muguruza pressing hard as she served to consolidate her break, improvising a wildly creative sliced forehand to get herself out of trouble and finding a big first serve when she needed one to lead 5-2.
Serving to stay in the match, Muguruza’s service rhythm again faltered as Kenin continued to press relentlessly and the Spaniard capitulated with a double fault to end the contest.
A disbelieving Kenin pressed her hands over her face before running to be hugged warmly by Muguruza and then celebrate with her father and coach Alexander, who has struggled and sacrificed over the years to fund his daughter’s career.
Kenin was handed the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup by Lindsay Davenport and made her maiden Grand Slam winner’s speech, saying:
‘My dream has officially come true. I cannot even describe this feeling.
‘It’s so emotional and I’ve worked so hard and I’m just so grateful to be standing here. My dream came true, so if you have a dream, go for it and it’s going to come true.’
Gracious on court despite clearly being emotional, Muguruza was candid about having felt that she underperformed.
‘I’m not very happy about my performance. I think I had to play better today because she came up with a great level. I think at the important moments I didn’t find my shots. I think she found her shots, I didn’t f[i]nd my shots.
‘[…] I did feel a little bit lack of energy after so many matches. Physically was a tough battle out there. Right now it’s tough to be happy, although it has been an incredible tournament. You lose a final, but you got to make it to the final to be able to win or lose.’