MELBOURNE, February 1, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
A new star was born in women’s pro tennis at the Australian Open Saturday night. Remember her name. It’s Sofia Kenin.
Kenin, a 21-year-old Moscow-born American who emigrated to the United States soon after she was born, played with a sense of maturity and poise well beyond her years. Throughout her two hour and three minute final against unseeded Garbiñe Muguruza, the No. 14 seed Kenin’s resourcefulness – her ability to score drop-shot winners, execute defensive lobs, hit clean winners, defend the corners and to think fast on her feet and with her racquet – paid off in the biggest match of her young career. Kenin won her first grand Slam title in her 12th major appearance with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 triumph over the four-time major finalist Muguruza under a closed roof at Rod Laver Arena.
The 5-foot-7 (1.7 m) Kenin won by showing incredible fight and by exhibiting a little bit of anger, too. Importantly, she maintained her composure when it mattered most. Kenin hit 28 winners and won 65 percent of her second-serve points. She converted five of six break-point opportunities. Muguruza finished with 32 winners but committed 45 unforced errors. Kenin outpointed Muguruza 92-77.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) February 1, 2020
Kenin, who has won four of five tour-level finals, became the youngest Australian Open champion since Maria Sharapova in 2008. Her victory ended a U.S. drought of eight Grand Slams since the last American, Sloane Stephens (US Open 2017), won a major. Now, Kenin is set to become the youngest American woman to make her Top 10 debut since Serena Williams on April 5, 1999. She’ll be No. 7 in the world come Monday, moving ahead of Williams and Madison Keys, and also becomes the No. 1 American.
Kenin was appearing in her first Grand Slam final after knocking off World No. 1 and top seed Ashleigh Barty in straight sets in the semifinals, while Muguruza, who came into the final with a pair of Grand Slam titles to her C.V. – Roland Garros in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017 – was looking to win her first major on a hard court. The Venezuelan-Spaniard advanced with a semifinal win over No. 4 seed Simona Halep, her third win over a Top 10 player during the tournament. She was attempting to become the first unseeded player to win the Australian Open since Williams in 2007.
After splitting the first two sets, the turning point of the match came at 2-all in the decider when, from love-40, Kenin played with amazing resolve and won the next three points – each more amazing than the previous one – to gain deuce. She went on to hold her serve.
“I can remember that game very well,” Kenin recalled during her post-match press conference. “That’s the game I feel like changed things. I had to play some (of my) best tennis. I did. After that I was on fire. I was ready to take the beautiful trophy.
“I knew I had to take my chance. I had to be brave by playing a two-time Grand Slam champion. All respect to her. She played a really tough match. Every point, it was such a battle. A lot of moving. A lot of emotions on court from both sides.
“Yeah, I knew I needed to come up with the best shot, five best shots of my life. I mean, let’s go (smiling). It got me to win a Grand Slam. All right. I’ll take it.”
Muguruza explained her perspective of the turning point of the match. “It was a very important moment of the match. I think she found very, very good shots during the match, especially in the important moments, I think she came out with winners and just hitting the ball very good.”
Soon, with Kenin ahead 5-2, Muguruza’s nerves got the best of her: Her powerful serve, which produced nine aces, suddenly abandoned her. She double-faulted three times in the final game, including on match point number two. Suddenly, the final ended with an anti-climatic thud. Kenin dropped her racquet and looked totally stunned. For a moment, the new champion was filled with mixed emotions. She was both crying and laughing. With her palms out facing out, Kenin looked toward her box at her father, who’s also her coach, as if to ask “How am I supposed to act?”
During the trophy ceremony, an emotional Muguruza kept her remarks brief. She said: “Congratulations, Sofia. You played an incredible match, an incredible tournament, you deserve the trophy.” When it was Kenin’s turn to address the crowd, she remarked: “I just want to say my dream official came true. If you have a dream, go for it, because it can become true.”
Upon receiving the Daphne Ackhurst Memorial Cup, which goes to the women’s champion, Kenin immediately kissed it for all to see. The moment was all hers to stand tall and proud – and soak in the applause of the appreciative crowd.
Later, in addressing the media, Muguruza had a chance to reflect upon her fortnight, in which she played in her first major final in nearly three years and became the first unseeded Australian Open finalist since 2010. “Right now, it’s tough to be happy, although it has been an incredible tournament. You lose a final, but you got to make it to the final to be able to win or lose,” she said.
As for Kenin, she could finally stop doubting herself. She said in her post-match press conference: “Honestly, these past two weeks, there have been a lot of emotions. You guys could see after this match how much it all meant to me. This is such an honor.
“I’m so proud of myself, my dad, my team, everyone that has been around me. We’ve worked all hard. We’ve been through tough times. We did it. We fought. I’m just on cloud nine.”
Krejcikova and Mektic win mixed doubles title
No. 5 seeds Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic and Nikola Metktic from Croatia won their first Grand Slam title together with a 5-7, 6-4, 10-1 come-from-beyond victory over Bethanie Mattek-Sands from the United States and Jamie Murray of Great Britain in one hour and 25 minutes. Krejcikova won the 2019 Australian Open mixed doubles title with Rajeev Ram of the United States. It was the third Grand Slam final as a pair for Mattek-Sands and Murray.
“The partnership, it was very fortunate because I was looking for a partner,” Krejcikova admitted during the pair’s post-match press conference. “I was about to play with Rajeev Ram again. He had some problems during the off-season, so he just said that he’s not going to play. I was looking for a partner.
“I had Nikola’s number in my phone. I just wrote him a text message. In five minutes, I got the response back. He was just so happy to play. I’m like, ‘Yeah, let’s go and try to win the title.’”
Mektic interjected: “Yeah, I texted ‘yes’ before she has time to change her mind.”
Krejcikova picked up the story: “A month later we’re having this trophy. I cannot believe it. I’m just so happy. I have to thank Nikola so much because so many matches he was just playing so great, especially today. Without him, I wouldn’t be able to reach the title.”
Mektic added: “Obviously, I guess we’re very good players. That’s very important for a good partnership (smiling). I think we understood each other from the beginning. We adjusted well for our game. Barbora is (a) really nice person. The energy was very nice. We had no problems in communications. That was also I think the key.”
Around Melbourne Park
• Junior girls’ singles final: Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva, 14, became the first player from Andorra to win a Grand Slam title when she beat Weronika Baszak, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, in two hours and four minutes to win the junior girls’ singles title.
“I actually never thought that I would be here so I’m very happy right now,” the ninth-seeded Jimenez Kasintseva, who trains in Barcelona, said during the trophy ceremony. She was the youngest player in the girls’ draw and made her Grand Slam debut a successful one.
• Junior boys’ singles final: Top seed Harold Mayot, 17, of France, defeated his friend and doubles partner, Arthur Cazaux, also from France, 6-4, 6-1 win the the junior boys’ title.
“It’s an amazing feeling to win here in Australia,” said Mayot, who plans to compete on the pro tour this year. “It means a lot to me.” Said Cazaux, who was seeded fifth: “He just was too good today on this court.”
• Quad wheelchair final: Dylan Alcott of Australia won a record-extending sixth straight Australian Open quad wheelchair singles title. Alcott defeated Andy Lapthorne of Great Britain, 6-0, 6-4. It was Alcott’s 10th major singles title and erased the disappointment of losing to Lapthorne in last year’s US Open final, which denied him of a calendar-year Grand Slam.
“Tennis honestly saved my life, it honestly did, when I was younger and the Australian Open single-handedly changed my life,” Alcott said, quoted by the Australian Open website.
• Men’s and women’s wheelchair finals: Both men’s and women’s wheelchair finals were rescheduled to Sunday due to rain. The men’s wheelchair final will be contested between No. 1 seed Shingo Kunieda and Gordon Reid of Great Britain, and the women’s wheelchair final matches No. 2 seed Yui Kamiji of Japan against Aniek Van Koot from the Netherlands.
What they’re saying
Hall of Famer Chrissie Evert, commenting on new Australian Open Sofia Kenin for ESPN, broadcast to a North American audience: “She has been undervalued and overshadowed … but now America knows her.”
What they’re writing
• Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova from “Conchita brings out the champion in Muguruza” on the WTA Tour website: “Too often over the last couple of years, Garbiñe Muguruza looked as if she was playing scared – she appeared unhappy and fearful on court, as though she was constantly worried about losing. And, of course, when you’re thing like that, that’s what’s going to happen: you’re going to end up losing.
“But now Muguruza has regained her champion’s mentality, which has brought her to the Australian Open final against Sofia Kenin, which will also be the Spaniard’s first Grand Slam final since winning Wimbledon in 2017. How has she turned her tennis around? I have two words for you: Conchita Martinez.”
• Former World No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska, who retired from pro tennis in 2018, announced via Instagram on Friday that she is expecting her first child with her husband and former hitting partner Dawid Celt. “The time has come for a new stage in life,” she wrote. The WTA Tour website noted that Radwanska “captioned a photo of a pair of baby-sized shoes, accompanied by an emoji depicting a pregnant woman and several hashtags to get clear her message across.”
What they’re tweeting
• American No. 4 Alison Riske (ranked World No. 19): “always inspired by @SofiaKenin ! She has a lion heart & on top of that she is a sweet kid! Rooting all the way!! 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸
• Hall of Famer Tracy Austin: Incredible to see @GarbiMuguruza painting the lines again. Having instant success once more w/ smart, uber professional calm coach @conchitamartinez (Wimbledon). Happy, close-knit, hard working team=success.
By the numbers
• Day 13 attendance at the Australian Open Saturday, which included the women’s singles final, the mixed doubles final and the junior boys’ and girls’ singles finals, reached 20,898.
• Eight of the last 12 women’s Grand Slam winners have been first-time Grand Slam champions: