Kenin wins her 1st ma­jor

21-year-old Amer­i­can ral­lies to knock off Mugu­ruza

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SPORTS - By Howard Fen­drich

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.

HAN­NAH PETERS/GETTY-AFP

Sophia Kenin shows off the tro­phy af­ter win­ning the Aus­tralian Open.

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