Will it be Garbine Muguruza to claim her third Grand Slam title or can first-time major finalist, Sofia Kenin take down the Spaniard when they meet in the final of the Australian Open on Saturday night?
Garbine Muguruza vs Sofia Kenin Match Info
Date: Saturday February 1
Tournament: Australian Open Final
Court: Rod Laver Arena
Time: 7.30pm local time (8.30am GMT)
Garbine Muguruza vs Sofia Kenin Head-to-Head
Kenin leads 1-0
2019 | Beijing R1 | Kenin 6-0 2-6 6-2
Garbine Muguruza vs Sofia Kenin Match Preview
Not many would have predicted this final- former world No. 1, Muguruza had been well short of her best over the last couple of seasons, and was unseeded in this tournament, and Kenin, though rising, did not feature much in the pre-tournament conversations- but one of them will walk away with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup on Saturday night?
Muguruza has the experience of being a multiple major champion, having won Roland Garros in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017. The Spaniard also reached the Wimbledon final in 2015, and briefly held the No. 1 ranking for four weeks in September 2017, and ended that season as the No. 2 player in the world. The 26-year-old seemed set for a long stay in the top bracket of women’s tennis, but she lost her way in the subsequent seasons, finishing 2018 at No. 18, and falling out of the top-30 by the end of 2019.
Since the start of 2018, Muguruza has won just two titles, both in Acapulco (2018 and 2019), while her only other final was in Doha in 2018. She was particularly poor towards the end of last season, winning just one of her last eight matches and slipping to a year-end ranking of 36th, her lowest since 2013.
Reunited with compatriot, Conchita Martinez for the start of the 2020 season, Muguruza has encountered a resurgence this month, opening her year with a semi-final run in Shenzhen and reaching the quarter finals in Hobart, where she was forced to retire with a viral injury.
Her Australian Open campaign got off to an inauspicious start, as she dropped the first set to love in her opening match against Shelby Rogers, but she gave up only one more game after that, powering to victory to snap a three-match losing streak at Grand Slams. The Spaniard needed three more sets to get past Ajla Tomljanovic in the second round, but she has not lost a set since then. Muguruza blasted out top-ten duo, Elina Svitolina and Kiki Bertens to advance to her second Melbourne quarter final, where she defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-6 6-3 to reach the semis for the first time.
She scored third top-ten victory of the tournament in the last four, battling past Simona Halep 7-6 7-5 to move into her fourth Grand Slam final, her first since her 2017 Wimbledon triumph. Her post-match reaction was very conservative, and quite telling- the Spaniard is in Melbourne to go the long haul.
“Definitely the mission is to get away from here with a big trophy,” Muguruza said after the match. “Big or small celebration, it’s incredible achievement. It really depends of how you’re feeling. I believe in myself that I have what it takes to play these kind of matches and to be in this stage.”
A rollercoaster opening set against Halep featured seven set points- four to Halep and three to Muguruza- but it was the Spaniard that took her chance to edge ahead in searing conditions at Melbourne Park. Muguruza twice battled back from a break down in the second set, breaking Halep as the Romanian served for the set, before claiming the huge win on her second match point.
A dogged performance featured some strong defending from Muguruza, but it was her willingness to get on the front foot that ultimately won her the match. She blasted 39 winners and 44 unforced errors, and more crucially in my opinion, frequented the forecourt as much as possible, winning 20 of 30 points at the net.
She will need to do more of that as she takes on Kenin in the final on Saturday.
“I think [Kenin is] playing great,” said Muguruza. “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.”
Before this month, Kenin had never been past the fourth round of a major, with her only previous trip to the second week coming at Roland Garros last season, but she has produced a spectacular fortnight in Melbourne to score her Grand Slam breakthrough.
Kenin has dropped just one set en route the title match, against Coco Gauff in the fourth round, beating Martina Trevisan, Ann Li, Shuai Zhang, Ons Jabeur and Ashleigh Barty to reach the final.
Matched up against the craft of world No. 1, Barty and a vociferous Australian crowd in the semis, Kenin kept her cool admirably, saving a pair of set points in each set before pulling off the 7-6 7-5 win. She trailed 6-4 in the opening set tie break, but strung together four straight points to dig out the set and take the lead. Barty fought back in the second set, and looked like she would force a decider when she served at 5-4 40-15 lead, but Kenin saved both set points and broke back, before taking the next two games to claim the big win and knock out the home favourite.
The 21-year-old American has been on the rise in the last few years, breaking into the top-50 in 2018 and getting as high as 12th in 2019. She won titles in Hobart, Mallorca and Guangzhou last season, and was a beaten finalist in Acapulco. She also made a couple of big semi-finals in Toronto and Cincinnati, and ended the year at No. 14 in the rankings.
Kenin did not have the greatest start to the new season, exiting Brisbane and Adelaide in the second round, but she has compiled the greatest fortnight of her young career in Melbourne, and will aim to finish it off with a maiden Grand Slam title when she confronts Muguruza on Saturday night. Regardless of what happens in the final, the American will break into the top ten on Monday, checking in at 9th if she loses, and peaking at 7th if she takes down Muguruza.
“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.”
Garbine Muguruza vs Sofia Kenin Match Prediction
Kenin defeated Muguruza in their only previous meeting, a 6-0 2-6 6-2 victory in Wuhan last year. However, Muguruza was in a very bad place during that period, and shut down her 2019 season after that defeat.
After a strong pre-season, the Spaniard has been in much better form this year, and is playing with a renewed belief and determination to regain her position among the best players in the world. She’s also got the experience of being to multiple major finals, winning two of them, Kenin, on the other hand, had never been past the fourth round of a major.
Muguruza will most likely adopt the same aggressive mindset that got her over the line against Halep, and that could be the tactic that wins her a third Grand Slam title on Saturday.