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Navratilova, Henin backing resurgent Muguruza for Australian Open title

leye aduloju /

Tennis greats, Martina Navratilova and Justin Henin have backed Spaniard, Garbine Muguruza to take down American young gun, Sofia Kenin in the Australian Open final on Saturday.

Both Muguruza and Kenin have emerged as surprise finalists in Melbourne, with a resurgent Muguruza seeking her third Grand Slam title, and rising star, Kenin competing in her maiden major final.

Muguruza, at No. 32 in the world, is ranked 17 spots behind Kenin, but the former world No. 1 is the far more experienced player, and goes into the final as the bookmakers’ favourite to claim the title. 18-time Grand Slam singles champion, Martina Navratilova, is in agreement.

“You have to go with Muguruza as the favourite to take the opening major of the year”, the three-time Melbourne champion wrote in her column on the WTA website. “She has bigger weapons. She’s moving beautifully so she’s playing really great defense, which wasn’t a strength before. She’s got amazing offense. She’s big at the net. She’s got a bigger serve and bigger groundstrokes”.

After enduring a difficult couple of seasons, during which she slipped out of the top-30, Muguruza has been back to her best at the 2020 Australian Open, taking down top-ten stars, Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens and Simona Halep to move into her fourth Grand Slam final.

Navratilova has attributed Muguruza’s resurgence to her reunion with Conchita Martinez, noting that Martinez “brings out the champion” in the former world No. 1.

“Martinez, who is herself a former Grand Slam champion, has the magic touch with Muguruza”, Navratilova said. “She brings out the champion in Muguruza”.

“She has a way of giving Muguruza confidence and having her play like a champion”.

Muguruza has rediscovered some of her best form under Martinez (PA Sport)

With regular coach, Sam Sumyk unable to attend Wimbledon in 2017 due to family matters, Muguruza enlisted the help of her compatriot, Martinez, and it worked a treat as the Spaniard went on to claim her second major title. That relationship ended in March 2018, with Muguruza resuming her relationship with Sumyk. However, the Spaniard never really found her best form under Sumyk, resulting in a split in July last year, following Muguruza’s first round exit at Wimbledon.

Navratilova noted that Muguruza looked “scared”, “unhappy” and “fearful” of losing under Sumyk, but has been liberated by Martinez, who has given her charge the freedom to go out and express herself.

“The message seems to be: ‘Go out and play. Have fun. Show them how well you can play.’ Rather than: ‘Oh gosh, you need to do this and you need to do that’”, Navratilova observed. “I think before there was maybe too much strategy as well as pressure, and not enough instinct and just playing and feeling the game”.

Naturally, Navratilova has also been very impressed with Kenin’s progress to the Australian Open final, and believes Muguruza will have to be at her very best to get past the young gun. The American great is predicting a tough final, but she believes Martinez’s presence in Muguruza box puts the Spaniard in a very strong position.

“Maybe the difference will be that Muguruza has Martinez in her corner”, she says.

Navratilova is not the only former champion backing Muguruza, with 2004 winner, Justin Henin also throwing her weight behind the former world No. 1.

“Muguruza is clearly going to be the favourite because the level she’s shown during the whole tournament is quite impressive,” said the seven-time major champion.

“Emotionally, she knows how to handle this. Dealing with the emotions is something really important, and when you’ve already had the chance to do that in the past, it helps.”

“She’s more of an attacking player for sure, but she also adjusts herself to the game. She served very well when she had to, and I like the way she went to the net against Halep to really force her destiny in the match.”

Henin also reserved plenty of praise for Kenin, commending her attitude and skill, but the Belgian thinks the young gun will fall just short when she runs into Muguruza on Saturday.

“Is it going to be enough against Muguruza in the final? I don’t think so, but who knows?”, Henin says.

Muguruza vs Kenin is live from Melbourne on Saturday, 1 February from 7:30pm local time/ 8:30am GMT. Read the full match preview.