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Melbourne | Kenin ends the Barty party

Melbourne | Kenin ends the Barty party

Sofia Kenin pulled off a surprise win over Ash Barty in the semi-finals of the Australian Open on Thursday, disappointing a nation and ending the World No 1’s chance of making more history in Melbourne.

This really wasn’t an easy one. She's such a tough player. Of course, I'd like to first apologise to all of the Australian fans. I know they wanted her to win. It's not easy for them. There was some interesting cheers. I liked it. But it wasn't for me. I just try to lock it out and focus on each point. Sofia Kenin

“It’s a dream come true for me,” said Kenin. “It’s surreal.

“I always believed I can. I didn’t know exactly when. I feel like at this young age, I think it’s incredible. Not everyone gets to live this moment, live this dream. I’m just really grateful for it.”

The 21-year old American saved 2 set points in each set to win 7-6(6) 7-5 in a thrilling battle, taking advantage of Barty’s uncharacteristic edginess at key moments in the extremely hot conditions on Rod Laver Arena.

Barty was looking to become the first Australian woman to make the final in Melbourne since Wendy Turnbull in 1980, and expectations were running high.

The amiable Aussie held set points in both sets but could not convert any of them, and Kenin reeled off the final 4 games of the match.

It may have been a bitter disappointment for her legion of fans, but for Barty it was simply a missed opportunity.

Ash Barty of Australia holds her niece Olivia during her press conference after defeat to Sofia Kenin

© Mike Owen/Getty Images

“It’s disappointing. But it’s been a hell of a summer,” she said in her post-match press conference as she cuddled her 12-week-old niece and put the defeat into some perspective.

“This is what life is all about, it’s amazing,” said the Australian, gazing fondly down at the baby.

“Perspective is a beautiful thing. Life is a beautiful thing.

“She brought a smile to my face as soon as I came off the court. I got to give her a hug.”

Barty, who had been the strong favourite having defeated the 21-year-old Kenin in 4 of their 5 previous meetings, added that it was ‘a match where I didn’t feel super-comfortable’.“

“I felt like my first plan wasn’t working. I couldn’t execute the way that I wanted. I tried to go to B and C,” said the down-to-earth Aussie, who will remain World No 1 despite the loss.

“I think I had to dig and find a way. I mean, I’m 2 points away from winning that in straight sets, which is disappointing.

“I mean, if you would have told me 3 weeks ago that we would have won a tournament in Adelaide, made the semi-finals of the Australian Open, I’d take that, absolutely, every single day of the week.

“But I put myself in a position to win the match today and just didn’t play the biggest points well enough to be able to win.

“I have to give credit where credit’s due. Sofia came out and played aggressively on those points and deserved to win.”

The home favourite, Barty, who is a reluctant celebrity, spent the fortnight refusing to buy into the media hype surrounding her, but there was no doubt how much this meant to her.

“I’ve learnt so much over the last month,” Barty added. “I’ve learnt from all of the experiences that I’ve kind of been thrown into.

“I’ve loved every minute, and I won’t wait a year to put those into practice.

“I’ll put those into practice next week, the next time I walk on court, the next time I kind of wake up in the morning.”

Sofia Kenin in action against Ash Barty

© Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Kenin, a Russian-born Floridian, could scarcely believe what she had achieved, and this victory will be enough to take her into the top 10 whatever happens in the final on Saturday.

The top seed could not pull away from Kenin, seeing 3 break points come and go at 3-2, and then a lead evaporate in the tiebreak.

Barty held 2 set points at 6-4 in the breaker, but tightened up enough for her opponent to take full advantage, winning the last 4 points.

Kenin’s talent and competitive nature marked her out from an early age so it was no surprise to see her rise to the occasion on the biggest day of her career.

As the temperature crept up, it was Barty who made the move in the second set with a break for 2-1, the baking fans on Rod Laver Arena willing her on.

Serving for the match at 5-4 she was poised to push the contest to a decider but, again, was unable to play freely and Kenin, whose speed of foot is matched by her speed of thought, continued to make life difficult.

The American saved 2 set points before retrieving the break, and kept her foot on the accelerator to take her 2nd match point.

So long in the shadows of other American tennis players, Kenin is into her first Grand Slam final at the tender age of 21, and she beat the woman ranked No 1 to get there.

She did it by never flinching, even when she was within a single point from losing each set.

“This really wasn’t an easy one,” admitted the 14th-seeded, who never had been past the 4th round at a major tournament until now.

“She’s such a tough player. Of course, I’d like to first apologise to all of the Australian fans. I know they wanted her to win. It’s not easy for them.

“There was some interesting cheers. I liked it. But it wasn’t for me. I just try to lock it out and focus on each point.”

Kenin is the first American other than a Williams sister to reach the Australian Open final since Lindsay Davenport in 1995, and she is now also the first American woman to beat the No 1 player at a major since Serena topped Venus at Wimbledon in 2002.

On Saturday, Kenin will go up against the unseeded Garbiñe Muguruza, a former World No 1 who upset the No 4 seed, Simona Halep in straight sets in the other semi-final.

That match between a pair of two-time major champions followed Kenin’s win.

“I’m not even going to look,” Kenin said of the other semi-final. “I’m just going to relax and enjoy this moment.

“I’m just looking forward to the final.

“First I’m just going to be enjoying the moment. You don’t experience this so often.

“Of course, I’m going to enjoy it. This is so exciting. Literally butterflies,” she added.

“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.”

Ash Barty serves against Sofia Kenin

© William West/AFP via Getty Images

Barty and Kenin stepped out in Rod Laver Arena in the early afternoon under a cloudless sky and a vibrant sun.

The temperature topped 38 Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) in the first set, 10-15 (20-25) degrees hotter than it has been for much of a chillier-than-usual 1 1/2 weeks so far at Melbourne Park.

“It was tough. I haven’t played in this heat for two weeks [but] I expected it today,” Kenin said. “I’m from Miami. I’m used to this weather. The heat didn’t bother me.”

Barty also is used to the heat, but her one-handed slice backhand was not as reliable as it normally is while, at first, Kenin’s movement and groundstrokes seemed to lack their usual verve in the steamy conditions.

In fact, it took Kenin 43 minutes to register just 1 forehand winner, while 11 of her initial 14 points resulted from unforced errors by Barty.

The Australian had nearly twice as many winners in the first set, 22-12, thanks in large part to her 8 aces, and she gathered more total points, too: 46-44, but that doesn’t matter at times in tennis.

Barty was a point from taking that set when she went up 6-4 in the tiebreak by slapping a 78 mph second serve with a forehand return winner, prompting Kenin to bounce her racket off the blue court and shake her head.

Maybe that helped her release some tension, because she didn’t lose another point in the set.

Barty’s 1st set point was wasted with a netted backhand, eliciting a collective “Awwwwww!” from the seats.

The second was erased when Kenin ripped a good return, followed by a forehand that wrong-footed Barty.

Another winner by Kenin, this one a swinging forehand volley, put her ahead 7-6 for her 1st set point, and then Barty missed a runaround forehand, ending it as the American bellowed ‘Come on!’

Not ready to concede yet, Barty recovered quickly, earning a 3-1 lead in the second set that grew to 5-3, and she served for it at 5-4, but stumbled once more.

Kenin didn’t drop another game, as she saved two set points and was finally rewarded for her patience with her 1st break of the match to level the score at 5-5.

The American found a second wind and reeled off the last 3 games in a row to close out the match, sealing her spot into the Australian Open final after an hour and 45-minute battle.

“I believed I could win even though I had two set points down in the first and second,” Kenin said in her post-match press conference.

“I could literally feel, I was telling myself, I believe in myself. If I lose the set, I’m still going to come out and believe.

“Yeah, I really did a great job with it. I didn’t give up.

“I knew it was a tough match. Of course, some things didn’t go my way with the challenges and some great shots she came up with. But I didn’t let that stop me.

“Yeah, I was fighting. I left everything out all on the court, so it paid off.”

Barty, as ever, was philosophical.

“I feel like as a team we’ve grown. We’ve enjoyed every single minute,” she said. “I mean, can’t wait to get started for kind of the rest of the year.

“I feel like it’s going to happen pretty quickly and we’re going to be back sitting at this table with an Australian summer next year.”

While so much had changed since the last time Barty played in Melbourne, winning her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, becoming World No 1 and winning the WTA Finals, the only difference the Aussie has really noticed is the size of her press conferences and the courts she plays on.

“Nothing’s really changed for me, or my team,” she said while cradling her niece inside the media centre at Melbourne Park.

“We’re trying to chip away every single day to get better as people, to get better as tennis players.

“It just so happens that we got the No 1 ranking next to the name on the draw.

“[The biggest difference is there are] a lot more seats are full in here. Sometimes I get the privilege of playing on the bigger courts. But really that’s about it.”

Barty will next appear at the Dubai duty free championships in the United Arab Emirates next month, before playing at the Qatar Open in Doha ahead of the clay court season where she will defend her crown at the French Open.

Kenin, however, has an appointment with Muguruza on Saturday.

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