Rising star Sofia Kenin will face resurgent former World No. 1 Garbine Muguruza for the Australian Open title after the pair claimed semi-final upsets on Thursday.
Kenin sensationally saved two set points in both sets to stun World No. 1 and home favourite Ashleigh Barty 7-6(6) 7-5, while Muguruza registered a near-identical scoreline over 2018 Australian Open runner-up Simona Halep, coming back from 3-5 down in the second set to emerge triumphant 7-6(8) 7-5.
Both players are into their first Australian Open final, and in Kenin’s case, the first major final of her career.
After patiently rising up the rankings over the next couple of years, Kenin will make her top 10 debut on the back of her stunning run to the Australian Open final when the new rankings are released after the tournament – regardless of her result in the final.
Stepping out onto Rod Laver Arena in 39C temperatures, it was Kenin who was the far more steadier of the pair, with Barty clearly struggling with the weight of a nation on her shoulders as she tried to become the first local woman in four decades to make the Australian Open final.
It was a tense and nervy affair for large chunks of the encounter, but Kenin ultimately handled the occasion better than the top seed, digging in and saving set points in the opening set tiebreak and then coming back when Barty served for the match at 5-4 in the second to secure the biggest win of her young career.
“I believed I could win even though I had two set points down in the first and second,” Kenin said in her post-match press conference.
“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.
“Yeah, I was fighting. I left everything out all on the court, so it paid off.”
Barty, while clearly disappointed, found some perspective as she arrived into her press conference with her newborn niece.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing,” Barty conceded. “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.”
Meanwhile, Muguruza continued her sizzling form and completed her third straight sets win over a top 10 player this tournament as she came back to conquer Halep and move into her first Australian Open final.
The pair went hammer and tong in an energy-sapping first set that lasted 67 minutes, but it was Muguruza’s outright power that prevailed over Halep’s consistency and agility across the court.
Muguruza could have opened the floodgates had she taken a bunch of break point chances early in the second to open up a 2-0 lead, but instead she did it the hard way, winning the final four games of the match to post the victory.
Incredibly, Muguruza lost her first set of the Australian Open 0-6 to American qualifier Shelby Rogers as she battled a viral illness, but she’s been unstoppable ever since and showcased the form that yielded her two Grand Slam titles and the No. 1 ranking a few years ago.
Asked whether she thought she’d be in the final moments after beating Halep, Muguruza said:
“Well you don’t think like that. That’s almost two weeks ago. You start day by day. That’s what I was doing. I’m very excited to be in the final. It’s a long way to go and I have one more match on Saturday.”
Muguruza is now one win away from claiming three of the four Grand Slams after triumphing at Roland Garros in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017.
The Spaniard will attempt to become just the third unseeded player in the Open Era to win the Australian Open title after Chris O’Neill in 1978 and Serena Williams in 2007.