Sofia Kenin surprised both herself and Garbiñe Muguruza in the Australian Open women’s final on Saturday, stunning the Spaniard from a set down to win her first Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park.
These past 2 weeks have been the best of my life. Last but not least I want to thank my team. My dad, everyone there, thank you for making this possible. I can’t believe we’re here today, we all worked so hard and I’m just so grateful. Sofia Kenin
Hoisting the massive the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup aloft, the American became the the youngest Australian Open champion since Maria Sharapova, who happens to be her idol, won aged 20 in 2008.
“I just want to say that my dream has officially true, I can’t even describe this feeling,” said Kenin, writing herself into Grand Slam history in just her 12th main draw.
“It’s so emotional and I’ve worked so hard and I’m just so grateful to be standing here.
“Dreams come true, so if you have one, go for it.”
The 21-year-old American overturned Muguruza, a two-time Grand Slam champion and former World No 1, with fearless striking after dropping the opening set.
From relatively under the radar a fortnight ago, Kenin’s ‘can do’ attitude has launched her into the top 10 as a major champion, and become the leading light in American tennis.
Out of the 22 Americans that started out in the women’s draw a 2 weeks ago, Kenin emerged to complete a surprise run where she has come from nowhere to win her first Grand Slam title, showing all of her trademark aggression as she fought back to win in 2 hours 3 minutes against the shellshocked Spaniard.
The 14th seed, who will now jump as high as 7th in the world and usurp Serena Williams as America’s No 1, was in tears at the end and headed straight for her father Alexander, who is her coach.
It was the final twist in a tournament of upsets, after Williams went out in the 3rd round and Kenin upset Australia’s World No 1 Ash Barty in the semi-finals.
It was an amazing run also for Spain’s Muguruza, 26, who was unseeded for the first time at a Grand Slam since 2014 after having suffered a marked loss of form in the last 18 months.
The more experienced player coming into the final, Muguruza was playing her 4th Grand Slam final and aiming to be the first unseeded player to win the Australian Open since Serena Williams in 2007.
Starting the season with a return to former coach and 2020 Hall of Fame Inductee Conchita Martinez, the Spaniard pulled out of the Hobart International with a viral illness and lost the first 6 games of the fortnight to Shelby Rogers in the first round.
Once she dug out of that, she showed the form that has already taken her to 2 major titles, upsetting the likes of Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens, and fellow former No 1 Simona Halep in a thrilling semi-final.
Her resurgence in Melbourne over the past 2 weeks has been spectacular, but after grabbing the first-set lead, her serve failed her and she totted up 8 double-faults in all, 3 of them in the final game, including one on the 2nd championship point, handing the title to her younger opponent.
“These past 2 weeks have been the best of my life,” said Kenin on court. “I have to thank the crowd, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart.
“Last but not least I want to thank my team,” added Kenin, with her coach and father Alex recording the proud moment on his phone.
“My dad, everyone there, thank you for making this possible. I can’t believe we’re here today, we all worked so hard and I’m just so grateful.”
Muguruza drew first blood at Rod Laver Arena, where the roof was closed for rain in Melbourne, getting the first break of serve.
Kenin, who ended the fairytale run of 15-year-old Coco Gauff on her way to the final, bounced her American stars-and-stripes racket on the hardcourt in irritation.
Muguruza, the 2016 French Open and 2017 Wimbledon champion, took the first set in 52 minutes when the young American planted her forehand out, but the aggressive Kenin upped the ante in the second, breaking her more experienced opponent in the 4th game and sprinting into a 4-1 lead.
Kenin had started brightly enough with no sign of nerves, clipping 4 drop shots in the opening 3 games to test the impeccable Muguruza movement, but the Spaniard was utilising her transition game to apply the pressure and a forehand drive volley, complemented by a piercing winner off each groundstroke wing, earned break opportunities.
Kenin cracked at the 3rd chance and Muguruza posted a 2-1 break lead.
A brace of double faults didn’t help the Spaniard’s cause, before the 26-year-old consolidated her advantage with ferocious force, depth and precision.
The World No 15 Kenin was still probing, but any sniff of passive play and two-time Grand Slam champion Muguruza was ready to sweep it away, with 3 successive winners giving her a commanding 4-2 lead.
The American lashed a wrong-footing forehand and canny drop shot to remain in touch, and then the 21-year-old was level, having capitalised upon a loose game from Muguruza.
With 10 successful surges to the net out of 14 in the opener, Muguruza was able to instantly respond by charging forward with 2 games and a step towards the title.
The American, who won their only previous encounter in 3 sets, grabbed the second set in an emphatic 32 minutes.
A rattled Muguruza was seen briefly by a physio for what appeared to be a lower-back problem and despite her movement appearing hampered at moments, she stayed with Kenin through the first 4 games, putting away an overhead to dig out of a service game where she trailed 15-30.
A netted forehand from Kenin handed the Spaniard 3 break points in the following game, but she responded with aplomb, saving all 3 with winners.
An ace and a forehand pass ended what became the match’s defining game as the American closed in on Grand Slam glory.
In all, it was a stunning match from Kenin, who struck 28 winners to 23 unforced errors and converted an impressive 5 of 6 break point opportunities.
Muguruza struck 4 more winners, but ended the match with 45 unforced errors, 17 in the final set, as the American’s relentless accuracy proved too strong.
Kenin, who was overshadowed in the build-up to Melbourne by the likes of Williams, Osaka and Barty, adds by far the biggest title of her fast-burgeoning career to the 3 WTA crowns she won last year.
At 21 years and 80 days, Sofia is 22 days younger than Japan’s Naomi Osaka when she won the title last year.
A little after two hours on the clock, the 21-year-old dropped her racket in disbelief and the tears began to flow.
These turned to laughter when in her congratulatory speech, the Chair of Tennis Australia, Jayne Hrdlicka, got the American’s age wrong, twice.
As is tradition, Hrdlicka took to the stage to thank Kenin and Muguruza, for all of their efforts throughout the tournament.
In particular, she said how remarkable it was Kenin had broken through win a major at such a young age.
“Sofia, what a tournament,” Hrdlicka said. “At 20 years old, you have shown the world.
“You had a dream when you were seven years old. You were proud and confident in announcing your dream to family, friends and anybody who would listen.
“And I don’t think anybody around you would have believed at 20 you would be a Grand Slam champion.”
Beautiful sentiments, but Kenin is 21.
Kenin’s astounding comeback meant Muguruza couldn’t add to her pair of major titles and the Spaniard, too, struggled to contain her emotions, but she was gracious in defeat.
“Congratulations Sofia, you played an incredible match, an incredible tournament. You deserve the trophy,” stated the Spaniard, who will return to the top 20 after a fabulous on-court fortnight.
“I think we are going to see you in more final like this for sure.
“I have to thank my team, I wouldn’t be back here without them and they were over there suffering with me today … Thank you [coach] Conchita [Martinez] for helping me reach another Grand Slam final.
“I have to say it’s incredible playing out here in this environment, this court brings an energy, the crowd is what makes this special.”
Later Muguruza said she was ‘smiling inside’ despite her loss to the fiery American.
“I think right now it’s tough to have a big smile, though I’m smiling inside,” said the former French Open and Wimbledon champion.
Muguruza won just one match in the last six months of 2019 and was ranked 36 in the world at the end of the year but climb back to 16.
“I’m just taking it easy after these two years,” she said. “The media has been tough on me, I have to say.
“I don’t read a lot of things, but I really felt that people… Today people will say very good things about me, and the next week bad things if you lose.”
The Venezuelan-born Spaniard also bristled at the notion that reaching the Melbourne final meant that she was ‘back’.
“Back? Hmm, okay. If people see it because I’m in a Grand Slam final, that makes sense,” she said.
“But I feel like I was playing a lot of tournaments. I was on the tour, guys, I didn’t disappear, I was there.”
“I try to have a good perspective and not be too dramatic,” she added.
“Okay, you lost the match, was important one. But, hey, I’m here, I gave myself a chance to be in a final.
“You realise that and you calm down a little bit.”
Having been passed the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy by compatriot and 2000 Melbourne Park champion Lindsay Davenport, Kenin took to the microphone at Rod Laver Arena.
“This is my first speech, but I’m going to try my best,” Kenin said during the trophy ceremony at Rod Laver Arena, where the retractable roof was shut because of rain much of the day.
“My dream officially came true,” Kenin said in her winner’s speech. “I cannot even describe this feeling. It’s so emotional and I’ve worked so hard and I’m just so grateful to be standing here.”
The American continued: “These past two weeks have been the best of my life. I would like to thank my team and my dad.
“Thank you for making this possible. I can’t believe we’re here today.”