Kenin wins her 1st major
21-year-old American rallies to knock off Muguruza
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — This, essentially, was where Sofia Kenin was going to win or lose the Australian Open final: She was down love-40 while serving at 2-all in the third set against two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza.
Kenin sensed this was the moment that would matter. Up in the stands of Rod Laver Arena, so did her father, Alex, who’s also her coach.
“I knew I had to take my chance,” Kenin said. “I had to be brave.”
She sure was. The 21-year-old American won the next five points, each with a winner — one an ace, the others clean groundstrokes to cap exchanges of 11 shots or more — and was on her way to becoming a Grand Slam champion.
Demonstrative as can be — whether spiking a ball, dropping her red-whiteand-blue racket or slapping her thigh — and at her best when necessary, the 14th-seeded Kenin won the first major final of her career Saturday by coming back to beat a fading Muguruza 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 at Melbourne Park.
“That’s the game I feel, like, changed things,” Kenin said. “I had to play some (of my) best tennis [and] I did.
“After that, I was on fire. I was ready to take the beautiful trophy.”
Kenin was so magnificent when it mattered the most, saving 10 of 12 break points she faced while converting 5 of 6 that she earned.
“I’m not very happy about my performance,” Muguruza said. “At the important moments, I didn’t find my shots. I think she found her shots; I didn’t.”
Muguruza was visited by a trainer after the second set and her movement wasn’t ideal down the stretch.
Nor was her serving: She double-faulted eight times, including three in the last game, one on championship point.
“A little bit lack of energy,” Muguruza said.
For quite some time, Kenin was overlooked and underappreciated, drawing much less attention than other young tennis players from the U.S., such as 15-year-old Coco Gauff — Kenin beat her in the fourth round this week — and 18-year-old Amanda Anisimova.
Maybe it was because Kenin is only 5-foot-7. Maybe it was because she went into last season with this resume: ranked outside the top 50, yet to get past the third round of a major, yet to win a tour-level title.
Kenin will be taken more seriously now by everyone. She is the youngest Australian Open champion since 2008, when Maria Sharapova won the hard-court tournament at 20.
Kenin, who eliminated No. 1 Ash Barty in the semifinals, is expected to rise to No. 7 in Monday’s WTA rankings, the youngest American to make her debut in the top 10 since Serena Williams in 1999.
“Those people that didn’t believe in her, they had very valid reasons not to because she’s always been the smallest one,“Alex Kenin said the day before the final. “But I guess, thank God, I saw something that they didn’t because I know her better.
“I feel pretty happy. I guess I was right.” Muguruza came into the day with a far more formidable record. She has been ranked No. 1 and won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017 — the only woman to beat each Williams sister in a Grand Slam final.
In the men’s final Sunday, defending champion Novak Djokovic will face Dominic Thiem, a 26-year-old Austrian who was the runner-up to Rafael Nadal at the French Open the past two years.
Djokovic seeks a record-extending eighth title at Melbourne Park and 17th major trophy overall.
Thiem is trying to become the first man born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam title.
Sophia Kenin shows off the trophy after winning the Australian Open.